10 Places Austin editors and writers can find freelance work

I am a hungry writer.  And not just because I couldn’t watch the Olympics basketball game without hallucinating Kobe Bryant as a slice of pizza. I am eager for writing experience. The challenge is to balance my desire to get as much work as possible with making calculated decisions about the projects I pursue. It’s easy to write for free for the sake of building a portfolio, but there are ways to do that while being compensated for your work.  If you’re taking the first step toward a paid writing career, or are just looking for some extra cash between jobs, here are 10 options to help you get started.


Short-Term Contract Work

Pearson is an education company with an Austin office. They offer temporary projects in areas such as writing test questions, associate copy editing and content development. Between September and June, Pearson’s north Austin campus buzzes with hundreds of scorers — a short-term gig that requires individuals with a B.A. to grade exams taken by primary, middle and high school students all over the country.

Most assignments are about one or two weeks in duration. Some people can hop from one assignment to the next, extending their stay for several months. While this isn’t the best way to build a portfolio, it will be relevant work to add to your resume. Temporary workers generally do not receive professional letters of recommendation, but it never hurts to ask. Building relationships with your supervisors will help you at least get a personal letter.

A scoring job at Pearson pays a few dollars more than minimum wage. Frequent bonuses can up your earnings somewhat significantly.


Work From Home

Leapforce, based in California, offers internet research projects to temporary contract workers. Agents have the flexibility of working from home and are paid hourly. However, working remotely means sacrificing the personal relationships that often lead to other jobs or letters of recommendation.  The work isn’t a portfolio builder — agents mostly evaluate the accuracy of websites — but it is a good way to earn extra money while learning about web evaluation.

While the at-home web analyst gig pays almost twice minimum wage in Texas, the mandatory training period, which can take about a week depending on how quickly you can pick up somewhat complicated protocol, is unpaid. Leapforce also limits the amount of hours you’re permitted to work — a strategy that not only prohibits you from collecting health insurance, but also collecting unemployment if they suddenly terminate your contract.

Curated Job Boards

FlexJobs and Elance provide leads to telecommuting freelance projects for writers and editors. Like with any real job, you still have to apply and compete with other qualified candidates. In the case of Elance, you’re required to bid for the job, much in the same way a carpenter would bid for a remodeling project.

They offer a variety of leads such as editing a romance book, writing content for travel websites, ghost writing novels, blog writing, copy editing and translating. While this type of work is a great way to build your portfolio and gain relevant experience, there is a lot of competition. These sites also have a reputation for being difficult in areas of communicating expectations and compensation.

One person who worked with Elance left this feedback on the website, “I finally managed to get some work but the pay is nothing near what I would require if I were to actually depend on freelance for my bread and butter.”

FlexJobs is not a job auction site. Instead, they claim to vet and handpick authentic job leads from a variety of sources. FlexJobs charges a membership fee because, as they explain on their pricing page, “Through extensive testing, we came to realize that a low-cost subscription service would allow us the best way to truly serve job-seekers and provide the best job service possible.” In other words, because they can.

 You can use these sites to diversify your portfolio, but be careful not to spend too long working for less than you’re worth. It’s also easy to spend hours sifting through job leads that you have little chance of actually getting.

Pitch, Pitch, Pitch

Local magazines, such as Austin Monthly, hire freelance writers for features and occasionally for other sections. This is a great way to network and get your name out into the local writing community. Freelancing for magazines is competitive. Instead of waiting for an assignment, send your story ideas to the editors. Sarah Thurmond, editor at Austin Monthly says, “Freelancers will pitch ideas to us. Or, if we have an idea, we’ll reach out to those that have written for us before.” Showing initiative at first will help you get jobs in the future.

Other print publications around Austin include Austin Woman, Austin Man, Texas Monthly, the Texas Observer and university alumni magazines and publications such as UT’s the Alcade and Directions, a magazine by St. Edward’s University school of business and management.

It’s important to be open to opportunities while you’re building your career. Leah Kaminsky, fellow PWA member and founder of Just Start Applications, says, “I’ve been surprised to find the market is sometimes better at telling me what I’m good at than I am.”  Taking on temporary jobs will give you experience, direction (and cash!) without tying you down.

Do you have a go-to writing or editing gig for making extra cash? Tell us how you find short-term writing and editing jobs.

Cory MacPherson earned her bachelors of fine arts from UNC-Wilmington in 2009. This blog post is her first step towards becoming the writer she set out to be when she moved to Austin. Her biggest disappointment in life is the time she accidentally left her bag of gummy bears in the car and they became a gummy blob.

Austin editors agree: Writing a headline is one tough gig

Not even the best headline writer can save a dying publication. But failing to master the art of headline writing can be the difference between upping your readership and losing your reader to the next story on the page or screen. A headline must convey in a handful of words what your article is about. You have just one chance to get it right.


Today’s newsroom

These days most reporters do not have the luxury of a supportive editorial staff for fact checking, polishing grammar and writing  headlines. Lousy headline writers are increasingly finding themselves sidelined by those who can churn out effortlessly catchy heds.

See what some local Austin writers have to say about this art, including how to get it right and – just as important – how easy it is to get it wrong.


Some do’s and don’ts of headline writing

Provide something catchy, says Sarah Thurmond, senior editor at Austin Monthly. “I’ll play around with clichés, words or phrases that rhyme, movie titles, idioms.” Thurmond is responsible for editing the magazine’s talk section and events guide.

Monica Riese, an assistant news editor for the Austin Chronicle, states that a headline has to have a hook. “If readers can’t decipher the jargon or easily discern what the news is, they won’t read on,” she says. Riese has been with the Chronicle since 2008. In a 2012 article about election deadlines, Riese wrote, “Run(-off), Don’t Walk.” Following it up with this simple dek, “Voter registration deadline approaching.”

Patrick George, a day police reporter  for the Statesman, suggests that a headline must grab your readers’ attention. “You have to get creative and include as much detail from the story as you can.” In 2009, George wrote this headline about a local politician’s visit to an area supermarket: “Lloyd Dogget faces angry crowd at Randalls.” Short, sweet, descriptive.

Include how or why in the headline, suggests Andrea Valdez, deputy web editor at Texas Monthly. “If possible, use one of the following words as it promises an explanation: How or Why,” says Valdez, who writes most of the web headlines for the online magazine.


Get creative

For a blotter concerning animal cruelty, George wrote “Man threw puppy at wall after losing basketball game.” This type of in-your-face headline writing catches a lot more attention than just blandly saying, “Man charged with animal cruelty,” George explains.

Let other writers lead the way, suggests Brian Sweany, who became deputy editor at Texas Monthly in 2009. “I’ll find myself flipping through old issues or looking at other magazines for inspiration.” Sweany admits that writing headlines is one of the hardest parts of the job.


It’s not rocket science

Rindy Weatherly, an assistant news editor at the Statesman, recommends avoiding uncertainty. “Choose lively words — short, active, with some spark. Stay away from ambiguous words and anything that many readers would need to look up in a dictionary.”

Rose Cahalan, assistant editor at the Alcalde magazine, boils headline writing down to its most essential essence, “Compelling, accurate, short equals holy trinity.” By day, Cahalan is an editor at UT’s alumni magazine and a freelance editor and tutor by night. “A good dek gives you more freedom in the hed, too,” Cahalan explains. A dek is a sub-headline that gives more detail about the article. “Come Hotel or High Water,” is a recent Alcalde headline for an article about a South Austin hotelier planning her state-wide expansion.

Do not deceive your audience, suggests Adam Schragin, Austinist editor in chief. “Some publications like to tantalize their readers with clearly misleading headlines, and I feel like that’s a risky proposition to undertake. People don’t like being fooled,” warns Schragin, who has written for the online publication since 2007.

What are some of your tricks of the headline-writing trade? Let us know how you come up with your most creative, or straight forward, heds and desk.


Bridget Carter, PWA editorial assistant, is currently working on her bachelors in forensic science and English writing and rhetoric from St. Edward’s University. Living in Austin, Texas for 12 years, Carter has become philanthropically involved in the community by volunteering at organizations such as Frontsteps Homeless Center and the Austin State Mental Hospital. She is a writer for the Hilltop Views Newspaper.

Your first poetry submission is the hardest one of them all

In the winter of 2007, I knew a man who kept his rejection letters taped to both sides of his bedroom door. At the time, I thought it must be utterly disheartening, to be faced with your own failures, day in and day out, coming and going.

Four and a half years later, I’ve come to realize that this was just his way of approaching the submission process. It isn’t just about the acceptance or rejection, it’s about putting your work out into the world.

As a poet, there are few better or more rewarding feelings than being published — or, so I’ve heard. Two years after earning my BFA in creative writing, I’ve finally gathered enough courage and information to make my first submission.

If you feel inspired to join me in this venture, here are some things to keep in mind that I learned along the way:

1. Follow the submission guidelines. It doesn’t matter if you’re the next W. H. Auden, if you don’t follow the rules, your poems won’t get published.

If the journal doesn’t accept previously published material, that means they won’t publish work that has been made available for viewing by the public in any online or print form. Did you post the submission on your Tumblr account? That is considered previously published, and therefore out of the running.

If you did submit that perfectly polished prose to a different journal last week, just be sure they accept simultaneous submissions.

2. Find out where your favorite poets and writing peers have been published. If you think your audience is the same as the ever-edgy Kim Addonizio’s, do some research on the journals that have published her work.

3. Attend events like WriteByNight‘s “What Poetry Can Do For You,” where you’ll have the opportunity learn firsthand how to find journals that are suited to your creative sensibilities. There are also websites like Literary Austin that have up-to-date information about calls for submissions in your own neighborhood.

4. Have faith in yourself and your work. The worst thing that can happen is that you get rejected. Brainstorm ways to keep yourself motivated, to reward your hard work and celebrate every little victory. The act of submitting is an accomplishment in itself.

With this knowledge in hand, I’m ready to submit. For the sake of time and money, and because my printer is out of ink, I decide to send my work to a journal that accepts online submissions. (Plenty of publications still accept standard mail submissions.)

I do a little research and find out that one of my favorite Addonizio poems, “The First Line is the Deepest,” was published in Poetry in 2009. Because this is my first time submitting, a journal like “Poetry” can be a little intimidating, but the thought of my words being sized-up by such esteemed eyes is incentive enough.

Now for the hardest part for the critical poet: deciding which of my babies to present. Submissions to “Poetry” are limited to four poems — one file — so I scour my manuscript for my most worthy works and format them as a rich text format, or a “.rtf,”  file, per their guidelines. This is, by far, the most time-consuming part of the process.

Overall, though, the whole online submission process is relatively quick and painless. In fact, up to this point, it feels rather anticlimactic. That is, until I realize that my cursor is hovering over the “submit” button. Once I tap the “enter” key, it feels like the click heard ’round the world.

My poems are out in the universe now. In six to eight weeks I’ll hear back from “Poetry” about whether or not my words will join the ranks of today’s most celebrated poets. The outcome doesn’t matter as much though, now that I can say that I’ve taken that first and largest leap towards achieving my poetic dreams.

Erin Coffin received her BFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington in 2010. Someday, she will be able to list the hundreds of journals that have published her poems. For now, you can find her on Twitter (@PWA_Poetry) and anywhere that serves coffee, bourbon, or poetry (preferably all three).

Erin Coffin introduces poetry in professional writing

I have always believed that I suffer from a vague and benign form of narcolepsy. Whenever asked what I think my superpower is, I’ll usually say that I can fall asleep anywhere, any time, in any context.

Acknowledging this “power” also ended any thought I ever entertained of pursuing a career in psychology, communications or history. While these subjects fascinated me, my heavy eyelids made enrolling in these lecture-style courses in college a threat to my GPA. I realized about myself that in order to fully capitalize on my undergraduate experience, I needed to find a major that offered a more intimate academic setting.

After my first poetry workshop, I was so wide awake that I thought I would never fall asleep again.

Reading, writing and editing poetry became my passion. It was there for me when I traveled around the country, there when I loved and lost and there when I left my childhood home and started my life in Texas.
 But it was in Texas that I lost my way — for a while.

I stopped writing and reading — and I certainly stopped editing. But we reunited like old friends when I found Professional Writers of Austin (PWA) and WriteByNight (WBN) on an unseasonably warm January afternoon. While walking home from lunch with a friend, I came across the WBN office on East 6th Street. Through no conscious decision of my own, I found myself marching right up to the door. It was locked, but Justine Tal Goldberg hurried over to welcome me in and give me information about the writing center and partner networking organization, PWA. I went home to tell my roommates that I found my way back. I was ready to start writing again.

After my first networking event, I was intrigued and excited. After I contributed my first few blog posts, I was hooked. After my first few meetings with PWA founder, Riki Markowitz, I realized just how vital this network is to the Austin writing community and how badly I wanted to get involved.

As a volunteer, I’ve had an amazing time learning about Austin’s professional writers’ world. After about four weeks, I landed the first job interview I had in months and was soon offered an authentic — paying — internship through job listings that I found after I was appointed editor of the job board.

In early June, I mentioned out loud that in my experience, the poetry community in Austin lacked cohesion. We have poetry readings, a few festivals and a dynamic slam poetry community. But I could not find a way to network with Austin poets on a regular basis. I decided that I wanted to help create the community I so badly crave.

With Riki and Justine’s support, this blog post marks the beginning of my time as PWA’s poetry editor. So be on the lookout for interviews with local poets, reporting on our poetry community, programs and events. I’ll be covering readings, workshops and festivals, as well as discussing the craft and the culture of all things poetic.

If you’re involved in the poetry community here in Austin, or would like to get more involved, get in touch with me. You can also join PWA and sign-up here to get reminders about upcoming events and programs for all writers.

Erin is a poet and a publishing intern for Landes Bioscience. She is now the poetry editor at Professional Writers of Austin, and looks forward to finding and cultivating an inspiring,  dynamic poetry community.

Add the perfect topping to your creation: Do not disrespect the headline

Nuts? Whipped cream? Caramel sauce?  No, silly! It’s the headline.

Long form writing gets plenty of attention, but when is the last time you thought about your short form? The really, really, really, really short form?

Do not disrespect the headline – it’s often the hardest working set of syllables on the page or screen.

Clearly in today’s fire hose of information, readers are blasted with emails, tweets, blogs, sales pitches and even news. Make your writing stand out with the best headline possible.

In some cases the headline is added by someone other than the writer. Do yourself a favor and learn how to write good headlines – or at least give it a try.

The dedicated headline writer of yore is now being asked to design pages, code html, post copy online and tend to a host of other duties not necessarily related to the quality of your prose. Give her something good to work with.

Meanwhile here are a few tips that will help you and your headline rise above the rest. Some of the standards of the print headline (where I cut my teeth) have fallen by the wayside in our onscreen lives. Some are even more important. No one will agree with all of my ideas, but take a look anyway.

Naturally you will want to start with an accurate, grammatically correct set of words. You’ll want to end up that way, too, so make sure you check these basics with every change.

  • Keep it tidy. Five to six words is often ideal.
  • Use active voice and simple sentence structure.
  • Avoid the mud. Use hard-working verbs and vivid images.
    • NO: Medical test results surprising
    • YES: Surgeon spots nail in skull X-ray
  • Resist the urge to pun. Puns seldom translate on the screen and they are terrible for SEO.
  • If you are concerned about clicks and SEO, use a keyword in the headline.
  • Don’t even think about throwing in superlatives. The best, the largest, richest, strongest are never as effective as a specific description.
    • No: Fullback strongest in school’s history.
    • Yes: Fullback lifts Chevy’s weight daily.
  • While you are at it, please banish unique and the mortifying most unique.
  • Cliches are tempting, but so overused. Um, that’s why they are called cliches. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him … It’s not that clever, trust me.
  • Keep the promise of your headline.  Do you know how angry it makes me when you call your How-To article Sure-fire secret solutions to looking young and then send me on a wild goose chase through link after link of more articles?
  • One final reminder: Read your headline with a dirty mind. Make sure that the words you put together don’t conjure up an image you didn’t intend.

More on the craft of headline writing:

How to Write Headlines that Work. Tips from Copyblogger.
10 questions to help you write better headlines. From the Poynter Institute.
American Copy Editors Society award winners from professional newspaper headline writers

Sandra Kleinsasser, PWA May/June guest blog editor, loves bringing order from chaos as an editor and organizer. She managed content and people as Executive News Editor at the Austin American-Statesman through many periods of rapid change, pounding deadlines and breaking news. She is now available as a communications consultant and problem solver. Learn more about her at or email [email protected].

Can I write for pay and pleasure? It’s a difficult choice

Writing used to be my expression. A way for my introverted, emotionally guarded self to make sense of the tangle of thoughts in my head, to purge myself of pent up emotions, to communicate what I couldn’t say out loud. Expression turned to passion while studying English writing at St. Edward’s University, where I was continuously inspired by the heart-stirring words of successful novelists, poets and essayists. Inspired, that is, to write something that means something to me and hopefully, to someone else. But I also wanted to make a living, and I was dead set on a career that revolved around writing.

Two years later, I fear I’m falling out of love with writing. I struggle to find the right words, and I can’t feel an ounce of creativity inside of me. I force myself to write a poem, on the rare occasion I make the attempt. I have four blog posts on my four-month-old blog. And never mind coming up with a creative non-fiction essay topic that answers the question burning inside every reader: So what? My passion for writing dangles from a thin string, gnawed away by my own desperation: I used my ability to write purely for financial purposes and let writing become a job rather than a career.

Writing is what I know, and I needed to pay the bills, so I applied to any writing-related job, took what I could get and tricked myself into believing that it was all for my career (that any type of writing job – whether I enjoyed the writing or not – would kick-start my writing career.)

But it wasn’t until even my own writing started to feel like work that I realized I was pursuing a writing career all wrong. I was writing to pay rent, not writing to write, grow as a writer, figure out what I really want to write and work toward achieving that.

A big part of me no longer wants to pursue a writing career – not now, at least. I still dream of someday having a career as a writer, but the writing must come first, or else I won’t grow as a creative writer or reach an equal balance of writing because I want to and writing to support myself.

For now, I’m focusing on reigniting my passion for writing and gaining back the confidence to call myself a writer. Here’s the game plan (so far):

  • Join Professional Writers of Austin. I was hesitant to explore Austin’s writing community and get involved with PWA because I haven’t felt like I deserve the title of “professional writer,” let alone “writer.” But part of what created my passion for writing was interacting with other writers and volunteering my love for writing to writing and English-related organizations.
  • Write this blog post despite my shaken confidence and constantly battling myself – Is that the right word choice? Am I engaging my audience? Is my lack of passion obvious, or is it subtly lurking between the lines, and I’m just too far in my head to see it? But I’m writing, and while it’s frustrating at times, it’s also exhilarating. Most importantly, I want to write.
  • Separate writing from income by deafening my ears to the siren call of writing-related jobs. At least until I figure out whether or not a writing career is for me and what kind of professional writer I want to be.
  • Write, write and write – poems, blogs, essays, articles, short stories, a personal journal, anything…as long as I’m writing because I want to write, not because I have to and most certainly not to pay the bills.

Kaitlin Meilert is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, where she earned her BA in English Writing & Rhetoric from St. Edward’s University. Occasionally she works or writes poetry, but mostly she daydreams.



PWA’s May/June 2012 guest blog guest editor is Sandra Kleinsasser.

Grammar For Dummies (Like All of Us)

Grammar. Grammar grammar grammar. What can anyone say about grammar that hasn’t been said before? How about, “Grammar killed my pet chinchilla.” According to Google, that one’s fresh. Or, “I’m going to WalMart to pick up some grammar.” Nobody’s ever said that before. Here’s another: “Off screen, Kelsey Grammer has always been a model citizen.”

I’d say that’s enough foolishness, but perhaps foolishness is the only way to keep grammar interesting. I say grammar, you roll your eyes. You say grammar, I roll my eyes. Most of us despise the subject. And are suspicious of those who don’t. We all know a grammar freak, don’t we? And we all think that grammar freak should be sent to a remote island to frolic (and discuss prepositions) with the other grammar freaks, and let them birth little grammar babies who are born knowing the difference between effect and affect and are predisposed to think less of me for beginning two sentences in this paragraph with “And.”

But here’s something worth noting: out of the thousands and thousands of pieces of writing I’ve rejected in my years as an editor, as many as half of those rejections were due solely to poor grammar. And a good half of those were due to poor grammar in the first paragraph, or in the cover/query letter.

Something else worth noting: no editor has ever accepted a piece of writing solely because of good grammar. Ever. As a writer, you never get recognition for good grammar; only bad. Seems unfair, right?

But editors, agents, publishers, and readers, they just assume that a writer should know how to use proper grammar. It’s kind of like breathing. When’s the last time you said to someone, “Hey, you’re pretty good at breathing. You’re a dynamite breather.” No, the only people who ever get attention for their breathing are those who are suddenly not so good at it.

Still, even the best writers have their grammar hangups. I don’t want to turn this into a screed about the quality of our education system (actually, I kinda do; but I won’t), but I, for one, have had to learn most of this stuff on my own. Nobody ever told me when to use an em dash and when to use a semicolon. I only vaguely know the difference between “bring” and “take.” Subject-verb agreement? I don’t really even know what the subject of this sentence is. If you ask me to diagram it, I’ll give you the Homer Simpson stare.

So what’s a writer to do? Just keep trying. Force yourself to read books like On Writing Well and The Elements of Style. Join us at WriteByNight on Thursday, June 21 for our seminar “Grammar For Creative Writers: It Doesn’t Have to Suck.” (I buried the lead. Or did I bury the lede?) Online resources like Purdue University’s OWL can prove valuable. (And invaluable. WTF?)

And practice. Because practice makes perfect. A cliché which doesn’t make sense grammatically, because perfect is an adjective, not a noun. (Or do I mean adverb?) The only time you use perfect as a noun is when you’re referring to the perfect tense, or to a verb in the perfect tense. That’s right [insert em dash, semicolon, maybe colon] use perfect as a noun when referring to a verb.

Okay, since my head just exploded a little, I should sign off.

Keep doing a good job breathing, folks. I’m going to go lay or lie down.

Grammar for Creative Writers: It doesn’t have to suck
Thursday, June 21, 6-8:30 p.m. at WriteByNight Headquarters (1305 E. 6th Street, Suite 4), $49
Learn more or register

David Duhr is co-founder of WriteByNight, and Fiction Editor & book critic at the Texas Observer. He contributes regularly to the Dallas Morning News, Publishing Perspectives, the Observer and others. Follow him on Twitter at @Write_By_Night


PWA’s May/June 2012 guest blog guest editor is Sandra Kleinsasser.

Newsroom blues

Anyone who has worked out of a newsroom — especially at a big-city daily — can attest to how the job can simultaneously be both frustrating and exhilarating. Many a starry-eyed intern or cub reporter came into The Washington Times newsroom envisioning a career as a crusading investigative journalist or White House correspondent. The reality of the profession usually prevailed. While the work can be exciting, long hours and low pay are the norm for newspaper editors and reporters.

Here then, from around the web, is a fair warning to those contemplating a career as an ink-stained wretch in the digital age:

It pays how much? recently ranked 200 jobs from best to worst using five criteria: stress, income, physical demands, work environment, and hiring outlook. I knew that daily journalism wouldn’t fare well in the stress, income, or hiring outlook categories, but little would I have thought that newspaper reporter would come in at No. 196, slightly ahead of oil rig worker, but not quite at the level of butcher, dishwasher, meter reader, or waitress. No. 1 on the list was software engineer and last, at No. 200, was lumberjack, a telling juxtaposition regarding the future of newsprint. Here is the complete list.

Overheard in the Newsroom

“Overheard in the Newsroom” is a Facebook page where journalists post quotations they hear from their co-workers in the course of their work day. The overall tone correctly illustrates the character of a normal newsroom.

Here are some of my favorites:

Editor to newsroom: “If the end of the world is Saturday, we won’t be printing a paper. But we will be posting online until the power goes out.”

Reporter doing a phone interview: “Please slow down, professor. You’ve been researching this topic for a decade. I’ve been researching it since lunchtime.”

Editor: “If you’re still at work and they’re vacuuming, you know you’ve made the wrong career choice.”

Program Editor: “What did journalists do before Google?” News Editor: “Journalism.”

Reporter: “We should all get together and file a class action suit against all the guidance counselors who suggested a career in journalism.”

Assistant Editor: “The server just gave me a font error.” Reporter: “What in the Helvetica is going on?”

Reporter: “It’s not that journalists don’t care about money. We’ve just made peace with the fact we’ll never have any.”

Editor: “If you were a better writer, you’d be done by now.” Reporter: “If I was a better writer, I wouldn’t be working here.”

“And that’s the way it is.”

A Tribute

Let’s celebrate the exhilarating side of the profession by recalling the most prominent journalist with Austin connections, the incomparable Walter Cronkite. Here is a tribute to the 50th anniversary of Cronkite’s inaugural broadcast. I remember watching the CBS news anchor while growing up during that nascent era of broadcast journalism which produced giants like Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, Eric Sevareid, and Roger Mudd.

To think that in just a lifetime one can go from watching a half-hour evening news show on a small black-and-white television to today’s 24-hour cable and internet news cycle society is mind-boggling. And I still believe we should urge talented people to become journalists despite the frustrations. In my opinion, we need them more than ever.

Kenneth Hanner, a former national editor of The Washington Times and former managing editor of Human Events, is a freelance writer/editor in Austin, Texas.


PWA’s May/June 2012 guest blog guest editor is Sandra Kleinsasser.

Marketing ideas for self-publishers: 7 tips

Marketing can be a confusing and complicated journey, especially for a first-time novelist. Reading up on the subject after publishing my first novel, “Rebels of the 512,” I discovered a free webinar hosted by Author Learning Center and led by indie author Steve Piacente.

I was interested in learning more about Piacente’s experience marketing his own first book, after reading an excerpt from his forthcoming prequel, “Bootlicker.” Piacente has been dubbed one of the “50 Great Writers You Should be Reading” by The Authors Show, so what I really wanted to know was how does an unknown author connect with his or her audience?

Piacente has a lot of great ideas, which he presented in a talk entitled “7 Messaging Strategies for Authors,” a two-part series. Here are the seven take-away messages I got out of these talks:

1.      Reviews are key. Work your networks to get friends, family and co-workers to read your book and offer their comments. Give away digital copies, or use Scribd to allow people to read sample chapters online without any additional software requirements. Make it as easy as possible for people to read and respond to your work.
2.      Marketing your book requires as much creativity as writing it! Be sure to give your readers good reasons to read your books by making your marketing as personal and genuine as possible. Blogging is a great medium for readers to get to know you and your book, so make sure your blog posts work to subtly sell your work without going overboard on the “Buy Now!” buttons.
3.      Let your bio and photo help tell your story. If your book is a serious nonfiction title, convey this with a professional, polished author photo and a bio that highlights the skills and strengths that make you the right expert to instruct your readers. If your book is a lighthearted fictional title, make sure your photo and bio match the mood.
4.      Have fun with your marketing. Know someone going on an overseas trip? Ask if they’ll take a copy or two of your book with them and drop it off in a well-trafficked café or public spot. Include a note that lets the reader know where your “message in a bottle” came from, and invite them to share their comments or reviews on your website.
5.      Whenever possible, eye contact or a real-life handshake trumps cyber selling. Meet your readers face to face at book shows, book clubs, signings, readings and other real-life events. Even if you don’t make the sale face to face, be ready with a take-away item such as a bookmark or postcard that will remind them to buy a copy later.
6.      Social media is a great way to connect with readers on at least four major platforms. Use Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads and YouTube to connect with fans, and post regularly (at least once a week). Remember to keep your interactions professional, but focus on having discussions and contributing worthwhile information rather than just hawking your books.
7.      Measure your results! While sales are one way to decide whether your strategies are working, there’s also the number of followers you’ve got on your social media platforms, the quality or level of interactions you have with your fans, and the number of people that show up at your signings or readings.

Keep these all on an upward trajectory and you’re golden.

Interested in learning more? Steve has two more videos on the ALC website: “Self Publishing Pros and Cons” and “Self Publishing Advice.” He also blogs about indie publishing at his website,

Are you a self-published ebook writer? Tell us your techniques for getting noticed and making sales.

Laura Roberts is the author of “Rebels of the 512”, the best novel you’ll ever read about pirates, ninjas and evil politicians in Austin, Texas. Read about ninja weapons from A to Z or buy a copy of the book on her blog,


PWA’s May 2012 guest blog guest editor is Sandra Kleinsasser.

Establishing credibility with your reader

For many years at the Detroit Free Press I was privileged to edit the work of Susan Ager, an award-winning magazine writer and columnist.  She is also a first-class writing coach, assisting other writers in drawing out their best work and recognizing the elements that make their writing great. Ager had a simple piece of advice: become an authority and then write like one.

Becoming an authority

This wisdom applies whether you are writing about politics, the tech industry, Austin’s live-music scene, the environment, arts criticism or even restaurant reviews. It means you invest the time to learn and understand your topic and then use that knowledge to write with the confidence and clarity of an expert. Becoming an authority doesn’t happen overnight, but neither does it require years to achieve. You get there by reading everything you can get your hands on, seeking out and talking to people in the know and using every story you write as an opportunity to learn even more.

In newsrooms, those writers are often the ones with yard-high stacks of books, magazines and reports at their desks. They really do read that stuff. They also go to conferences, take advantage of webinars and keep up with what the best in the business are doing.

Writing with authority

Writing with authority isn’t license to insert your own viewpoint or opinion. It does mean providing context and insight: “Here’s what this means,” — based on facts and reporting.

Authoritative writing is not pretentious, academic or self-consciously clever. It aims to clarify, explain and even illuminate. It’s your job to explain in plain language what’s really going on. Readers should walk away feeling, “Who knew?” or “Now I get it.”

Authority is earned. You can’t fake it.

The web, unfortunately, has caused a wave of authority imitators. Think about how many articles you’ve read where the author seems to be showing off with flip observations, obviously borrowed references and a lot of jargon. That is just amateurish. Among other things, jargon is a shortcut for the lazy, not a sign of authority. And if you put jargon in quotes, you are simply advertising the fact that you have no idea what it means.

Jargon happens to be especially prevalent in sports and business writing.  I once cracked up an editors’ meeting by reading the lead on a sports story that included the phrase, “Ping-pong chop to the Metrodome rug.” I’ll put that one up against any indecipherable wire-service corporate earnings story any day.

Learn from the best

For good newspaper examples of writing with authority, The Wall Street Journal continues to set a high bar. The Journal writes for a very sophisticated audience, but manages to — mostly — avoid business jargon, and distills complex financial concepts with accessible language. For television and multimedia writing, Paul Solman of the PBS NewsHour demonstrates awesome insight and clarity in his reporting on economic inequality in America. He comes across as a very smart but approachable guy who knows a lot about how the economy works and can explain it to you over coffee.

The Economist magazine does a superb job of writing with authority. Consider this story on James Cameron’s recent dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, and what it provided that you didn’t read anywhere else.


Some final thoughts:

* You have to know what you don’t know. You also need to know where to get answers, or who to ask about where to go, or even who to ask about who to ask.
* You are discerning; you know when information is incomplete, off-base or misleading.
* You can explain what you’re writing about, in an engaging and interesting way, to a group of friends.
* You write with confidence, and the voice of someone who has command of the subject.
* You write for readers, not for yourself.

What nuggets of wisdom have your professional role models shared with you over the years that made you a better writer, reporter or editor?


In a decade as executive business editor at the Austin American-Statesman, and before that in senior editing roles at the Detroit Free Press, Kathy Warbelow helped guide reporters to award-winning work. She is now a freelance writer, editor and media relations consultant in Austin.

PWA’s May 2012 guest blog guest editor is Sandra Kleinsasser.