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Outfitters to the creative writing and film production community since 1982, The Writers Store offers a comprehensive selection of software, books, supplies and articles for Writers and Filmmakers. There are some 40 titles on the topic Business as a Writer, and a cache of useful articles and bi-monthly ezine add to the site's resource value.

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A Back-to-School Special Report
Summer is winding down, so it’s time to get serious about tuning up your writing business machine and have it running smoothly for the long winter ahead. Even the most proficient writers need to be savvy business managers and promoters to keep their manuscripts selling and their “brand” awareness thriving and growing.

Two new books have hit the shelves recently that offer great advice for both beginning and seasoned writers, to help us revitalize our businesses and assure we have plenty of time for that all-important activity –- writing!

So, wrap up reading those pulp-fiction beach novels and check out these excellent resources. The information within –- from manuscript pitching to commercial freelance writing -- could be the difference between your success and failure as a working writer.

First, the Pitch

“The writing you do about your writing is as important as the writing itself,” says Katharine Sands, author of Making the Perfect Pitch, a new book about finding one’s way to the top of the manuscript slushpile.

We all know how tough it is to get noticed in the avalanche of manuscripts publishers receive. R.R. Bowker just announced data stating that 175,000 books were published in 2003 and that 10,877 new publishers entered the fray. But before a writer can get a book published, they must doggedly pitch, query and propose their project. And, since most publishers no longer accept material directly from authors, these efforts must first be directed to getting an agent who will in turn pitch the book proposal to a publisher.

To make things even more difficult, writers can’t just hire an agent. An agent must be enchanted, seduced, and won over to take a writer on as a client. The agent must choose to devote their efforts to working on that writer’s behalf —- and therefore believe that there is a good chance of being successful in selling a writer’s work to a publisher.

To help writers better woo an agent, Katharine Sands offers this hands-on guide to the nitty-gritty details of crafting a successful pitch. Each of the 40 articles in the book —- all written by top agents and other authorities in the publishing field —- provides insights and practical advice on how to emerge triumphant from the leaning tower of queries in a literary agent’s office.

Each expert offers a unique take on what constitutes a perfect pitch —- what gets an agent excited about a potential project. Showcasing the art of “pitchcraft,” this book is chock-full of query critiques, proposal examples, revelations of likes and dislikes of agents and editors, plus a sampling of the best and worst pitching tales and big-break stories. Making the Perfect Pitch delves into a wide range of fiction and non-fiction subject areas, bringing wisdom to both fledgling writers and well-published professionals on how to pitch with aplomb.

The good news is that agents -— and ultimately editors and publishers -— are forever on the lookout for writers who can bring new and interesting ideas to life. “Do not spend valuable time apologizing for taking up the agent’s time. Authors are an agent’s lifeline …We are mutually reliant. We need you, too!” writes Rita Rosenkranz, a NYC literary agent. The bad news, as Jandy Nelson, a LA literary agent observes, “We get over one thousand submissions a week. But,” she points out, “we are still looking to fall in love, to be swept off our feet by the promise of a great project.”

“Do your research,” suggests Erin Reel, a Los Angeles literary agent. “Be as careful in the planning of your query as you are in your art.”

“In a nutshell,” says Sands, “pitching is about finding the right words and getting the right people to read them.” She hopes the eclectic collection of advice assembled in Making the Perfect Pitch will enable writers to successfully take the next step toward being a published author.

Leverage Your “Published Author” Status

So, you’ve broken through the barriers and written and published a book or two, maybe more. So what now? Royalties aren’t quite enough to pay the bills? Well, commercial writing expert Peter Bowerman floats the tantalizing prospect of leveraging your “Published Author” status into well-paying “commercial” freelance writing jobs.

Bowerman’s The Well-Fed Writer: Back For Seconds, scheduled for a November 2004 release, is a companion volume to his award-winning Book-of-the-Month Club selection, The Well-Fed Writer: Financial Self-Sufficiency As a Freelance Writer in Six Months or Less (Fanove 2000).

In the first book, Atlanta author and veteran commercial writer Bowerman outlined a detailed game plan for establishing a lucrative commercial freelancing business –- writing for corporations and creative agencies (graphic design firms, ad agencies, PR firms, marketing companies, etc.) and for hourly rates ranging from $50-125+. Over the past decade, many downsized companies have turned to experienced freelancers to handle a broad array of written communications needs, and according to Bowerman, “Good, smart, reliable and strategic writers are in short supply.”

“Any writer who’s been published one or more times likely has writing skills that are more than adequate for the commercial market,” Bowerman observes. “And your ‘published author’ status can be respected door-opener.” Certainly, those skills will need to be channeled and refined for a different market, and aspiring commercial freelancers may also need to become more familiar with the basics of marketing. Brushing up on these skills is good for writers at any level.

The Well-Fed Writer: Back For Seconds (95% new content -– NOT a revised edition) builds on the original foundation with dramatically expanded sections on sales, marketing and cold calling –- demystifying subjects often terrifying to “creative types.” In addition, Back For Seconds features dozens of firsthand accounts from commercial writers across the spectrum, sharing insights on building the business in smaller markets, on a part-time basis, and by way of atypical commercial avenues: not-for-profits, rarely-explored corporate departments, universities, the BIG small-medium-sized business segment and other unusual niches.

Back For Seconds’s six appendices (90+ pages) include an encapsulation of The Well-Fed Writer, a dozen profiles of successful commercial writers, a business primer for the newly self-employed (business structures, taxes, retirement and insurance), and writing resources.

Bowerman notes that once you’re established as a commercial writer, the high prevailing rates in the commercial field preclude the need to log the 40-50+ hour creativity-draining workweeks required by most full-time jobs. And that can free up writers to pursue their writing passions -– the very scenario Bowerman took advantage of in writing his two books.

Veteran commercial freelance writer Bob Bly, author of 50+ writing how-to titles, says: “I know of no other arena of writing so lucrative yet so easy to get started in.” With no writing background, paid professional writing experience or industry contacts, Bowerman was paying all his bills through commercial writing in four months. He says, “If you’re a decent writer and dream of making a good living writing while working from home, this is a great option.”

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Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent’s Eye
April 2004; $18.95 trade paperback; 288 pgs; ISBN 0-87116-206-7 (800)533-6644

The Well-Fed Writer: Back For Seconds
November 2004; $19.95 trade paperback; 304 pgs; ISBN 0-9670598-5-2 Available September 2004 exclusively through the website and (800)247-6553

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A Sampling of the Words of Wisdom found in Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent’s Eye

“Seek the wonderful one-liner. If you’re able to sum up your entire book with a title or a one-line description, that’s gold.” ~ Sarah Jane Freymann, NYC literary agent

“Passion is everything. No matter what you’re selling, whether it’s a book or a vacuum cleaner, you have to believe in your product. You have to know everything good about your product to be able to sell it.” ~ Sheree Bykofsky, NYC literary agent

“Most pitches fit into one of two categories: the comparison pitch, where existing titles or similar story lines are used to draw ties to the manuscript and the ‘strength of the idea’ pitch, putting the best of the manuscript into a sentence or two that fully summarizes the project.” ~Andrew J. Welchel and Jason Cangialosi, NYC literary agents

“A good query letter is not much longer than three paragraphs. At the end of it, I know what they’re doing, what their intention is, and how to get hold of them.” ~ Jim Fitzgerald, NYC literary agent

“Think of your query letter as a novel in miniature. Keep the conflicts strong and the tension high. Make each sentence build in drama and scope to the next one.” ~ Debbie Babitt, NYC copy director

“Your timely follow-up with a proposal if requested is one of the first indications to an agent that you’re a dedicated, enthusiastic, organized author: potentially a great client.” ~ Robert Shepard, SF area literary agent

“It’s a mistake to think that writing is about putting down words on paper. That’s technique. Writing is about thinking. So when we speak of finding a fresh new voice, we are talking about a writer who can not only think originally and commercially, but who can also capture that in elegant, sexy language on the page. There’s nothing we long for more.” ~ Peter Rubie, NYC literary agent

“Most people put way too much information in query letters [for novels].…Setting, protagonist, problem, that’s really all you need.” ~ Donald Maass, NYC literary agent

“I look at each pitch and ask two immediate questions. Can I sell this? Followed quickly by Do I want to?” ~ Esmond Harmsworth, Boston literary agent

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A Freelance Commercial Writing Primer from Peter Bowerman

What exactly is freelance commercial writing?
Commercial writing is writing for corporations or other business entities on a freelance basis. That means marketing brochures, ad copy, newsletters, direct mail campaigns, speeches, trade articles, video scripts and about a zillion other types of projects. Because the business world generally has a lot more money than magazines or other organizations that might hire writers, the pay is considerably higher than in those fields. Hourly rates range from $50-100 or more, with the average being $60-75.

What sort of experience do you need for commercial writing?
Well frankly, I had no industry contacts, no professional writing background and no previous paid writing experience when I started out and I was self-sufficient in less than four months -- by self-sufficient, I mean full-time and paying all my bills through writing. I had a sales background, which helped get me going, but zilch in the writing arena. If you've got freelancing credits, you're that much further ahead of the game. This was my experience; yours may be different. If you have little business experience to leverage (i.e., knowledge of or experience in a particular industry), it'll likely take you longer to get established. This is NOT a get-rich-quick scheme.

Why is commercial writing a good field to go into now?
There are a lot of reasons, but probably the most important has been the prolific corporate downsizing of the last decade. Often, the first departments to be cut were in the creative and communications arenas -- and that means writing. But the work still needs to get done. People would be amazed at how much work is being outsourced by big companies like Coca-Cola, UPS, BellSouth and plenty of others.

Is the money equation in commercial writing different from say, magazine writing?
Very different. If you're listening to this and you've done some magazine writing, you'll relate to this. Imagine the editor of a publication you've been writing for saying, "OK, for this next piece, add up all the hours you think it'll take for research, background reading, travel, brainstorming, interviewing, writing, and editing. Then multiply it by $75." You'd think he lost his mind. But, that's pretty much how it works in commercial writing. Project fees are calculated based on those hourly rates of $50-100+ and all time counts. Unlike magazine writing, it's not just these flat project fees with potentially vast, open-ended commitments of time.

Does it take a mental adjustment to write for this field?
Writing, for the most part, is writing. If you know how to assemble information and build a story, commercial writing will be similar in structure and format to magazines. The big difference of course, is the higher fees. That may seem like a wonderfully easy adjustment, but it can be tricky to shift your perception of your value on the open market. What is your time worth? If your experience is with magazines, then you're probably not used to thinking in terms of hourly rates. But that's the first question you'll be asked. And in this world, your time is worth a minimum of $50 an hour and probably more if you have any decent clips.

If you don't have any experience writing for magazines or in any other venue - which was basically my situation when I started - it's less of a disadvantage than you'd imagine.

Sure, you'll have to get into the rhythm of writing, and assembling the components of a piece in a logical flow, and do it on deadline, but if you're a quick study and reasonably intelligent, it's just not that tough an adjustment.

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Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent’s Eye
April 2004; $18.95 trade paperback; 288 pgs; ISBN 0-87116-206-7 (800)533-6644

The Well-Fed Writer: Back For Seconds
November 2004; $19.95 trade paperback; 304 pgs; ISBN 0-9670598-5-2 Available September 2004 exclusively through the website and (800)247-6553