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Why I Don’t Use Social Media to Promote My Work (yet)

Format Magazine (external link) is seeking people to write on this topic:

Opinion: Why I don’t use social media to promote my work

Are you an artist or creator who doesn’t use Instagram/Facebook/Twitter to promote their work? We’re seeking someone who can talk about why they don’t use social media to share their art or connect with clients, and how staying off social has even helped their career. This could be focused on one platform (“Why I don’t post my photography on Instagram”) or social media in general. Looking for a specifically professional, not personal, perspective on avoiding social media.

Social may be a way to promote existing work, but I’m doubtful it can provide new work. In the case of a writer, new work comes from an online writing portfolio, previously done articles, and from carefully crafted and well researched query letters.

I do not know any writer who has landed an assignment from a tweet or an Instagram post. I also do not know any editor who trolls social, looking for a writer. Writers come to them, not the other way around.

As my book nears completion, I am sure I will be drawn into the whirlpool of social to promote the title’s sale. I’ll have an existing product to sell. That’s quite different from having a service to sell, such as writing. In this case of future writing there is no product yet to sell, unless one wants to write complete articles, trying to find a home for them later on. Good luck with that.

In selling a service such as writing, getting new assignments takes the same old tack: reading writers’ guidelines, researching new periodicals, determining editors to correspond with, and, as always, making pitches.

As it is used right now, I see little reason to engage in social. Writing blog posts, as a way to keep a writing portfolio website current, seems a good method to keep a web presence. But it can only do so much. The best approach remains to determinedly and actively pursue work by developing contacts in the field and by keeping query letters and correspondence with editors coming. An Instagram photo can’t do that.

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Marketing Thoughts – An Argument Against Social Media

The best marketing for a writer is their own writing, showcased at an ad-free website kept current by frequent blogging. I don’t see any value in Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Maybe a LinkedIn presence if you want a social media feed.

Time spent pursuing more followers on social is misdirected. What’s the hope? That your tweet on the Canadian bobsled team lands you a job? Good luck.

A better proposition is to spend time directly targeting employers with queries instead of hoping chance will bring them to you. Keep sending out article suggestions, book proposals and job applications.

Developing more followers seems a waste of time. Whether you have one hundred or one thousand followers makes little difference to a harried editor who looks at two hundred article proposals a year, only to accept twenty that meet her editorial requirements and which captures her imagination.

Time and chance happens to us all. Your query on the frogs of Borneo might elicit a spirited reply from an editor who just visited Southeast Asia, or stony silence from an editor who despises the slimy things. In either case, you have to research a publication, draft a winning query letter, and solider on past disappointment.

I understand with books that there may be a difference. Increasingly, editors want you to bring an audience to them. More followers could help. But what kind of time will this take from working on your writing? Ideally, your website writing would reflect on the book you have in mind. Let me go off on a tangent.

I get the most likes on this blog when I write about poetry. Should I, therefore, write more about verse than prose? I am not a poet but I can see why people tailor their sites to their statistics. Your call. But you may wind up far from your calling.

It may be better to forget likes and followers and continue to work toward what counts: satisfying yourself and meeting the needs of an editor. Note that I did not say pleasing the reader. Your editor comes first. After your query is accepted, then comes the reader, following the editor’s guidelines.

As to how the editor gets to know your work, that is for your query letter and your online portfolio. As to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, I see them as time bandits and no substitute for a comprehensive writing website.

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A Plea to Magazine Publishers

I’d like commercial magazine publishers who don’t respond to e-mails to pull any submission guidelines from their websites. There’s no reason for that information to be there when the publisher has no intention of responding. Also, for those magazines that do solicit queries in good faith, let us do away with the page long query letter in favor of a one paragraph pitch. This would save both of us time.

And, if you really want to be helpful, consider using what the literary magazine world uses: Submittable.  I used it at least ten times to submit my creative nonfiction piece to publishers. Their website tells the prospective writer when their work is under consideration and then if it has been accepted or not. You can charge a small fee to recover the cost of the program. Using a site like that would smooth out the submission process for both writer and publisher.


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There’s an interesting and illuminating article in today’s New York Times about one writer’s successful struggle to land a variety of high profile gigs. Key to his story is how many writing assignments he did not get.

In this blog, I try hard to be positive and I don’t bemoan my failures. But I could tell you story after story of articles and books I wanted to write but was never able to because no one was interested. Or, perhaps, because I didn’t know how to market myself better. You’ll never know, by the way, if your query letter stunk, or the magazine editor wasn’t looking for another talking dog story. I am melancholy for all my failures, orphans turned out into the street, homeless.

What’s not revealed in the Times’ article, and this is little discussed, is whether this semi-successful writer makes his living from writing. I don’t. Writing adds income but its not my total income. Many times I have had to go back to nursery and plant work to get by. And even now, in between pitching books and articles, I am blogging for trial lawyers and writing articles for very little money just to keep income flowing and writing credits current.

But I am still writing, just like most of you who read this blog. We are still writing because we have to. A bird must sing. And tomorrow might bring that acceptance letter and that assignment and that chance to continue this mad and exciting game. Would we want to do anything else?

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Update on My Book Proposals

My Stanton Delaplane (internal link) book proposal has now been turned down twice. I think that’s just getting started for most writers; two proposals barely a beginning. I do think, though, that I am going to reorient my proposal. Instead of a book featuring his writing on all kinds of subjects, I am going to limit my anthology or reader to just his animal stories. A small title, no more that thirty or forty six-hundred word columns. I might even consider self publishing the book, as I think such a title would make a wonderful book and I don’t want to lose Delaplane to history. If I find the money I’d consider getting an illustrator. I did get a nice rejection letter from one publisher. Here it is:

Dear Mr. Farley:

Thank you for thinking of us for your proposed Stanton Delaplane reader. I’d never heard of Mr. Delaplane, and I was charmed by your inclusions. A lot of thought, care, and affection has gone into this proposal, and I appreciate that. It’s a lovely and nostalgic piece of SF history. I see the resonance with our mission, but I fear that this project would be challenging from a financial and business point of view for us. I see this being a tough sell in a fiercely competitive marketplace, and we need for our books to sell at certain levels to not only recoup expenses that go into their production but also help support our overall organization in a meaningful way. I’m sorry to disappoint you, and I hope you find a better home elsewhere. Self-publication might be an option if you’re committed to seeing this book in print (I suspect you could negotiate very low fees from the Chronicle) and able to do some marketing to get it in the hands of those readers who would treasure it. Depending on the production quality, I suspect a handful of SF bookstores would be happy to carry the book.

Kind regards,
The Publisher

My Nevada Agriculture book proposal (external link) isn’t going anywhere. Despite limited interest, the University of Nevada Press and the Nevada Farm Bureau have declined to help. Two private foundations are also unable to supply funding and I have exhausted the resources in Nevada that might assist. Self-publishing this book would be impossible due to the costs involved. A two hundred page book in color would be very expensive to print and the project would take me a year of full time work to do. The problem is that Nevada is a small state in population and the market for the title isn’t that big. I might consider publishing houses that cover the Great Basin in general but for right now I am leaving this book idea alone.

And, I have a blue sky book proposal floating that I haven’t written about before. I call it blue sky because I am proposing not just a single new book, but a raft of new books, a new title series for a large publisher. I put together a heavily illustrated 14 page .pdf file to show what a book in the new series might look like. Preparing this file put my new camera to good use and I have just sent the proposal off. I can’t discuss it until something comes about; with all companies that means weeks and perhaps months of waiting. But I am enthused about the project because it would mean a number of titles I could publish myself with little expense save for travel. I would much prefer a large publishing house pick the idea up, of course, but at least I have a way to go if no one is interested. This proposal got me out to different places around Las Vegas and that made me happy. Here’s what Spring Mountain Ranch looks like right now.





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Tracking Queries With Google’s Calendar

I’m now using Google’s Calendar feature (external link) to keep track of queries. I wish I used it before. It’s a free service with a Google account. You already have it if you use Gmail.

The calendar is pretty straight forward to use. I note each date I send in a query. I then schedule a query follow up in two weeks or two months, whatever is appropriate. I get an e-mail when this happens so I don’t have to keep checking the calendar. Setting up e-mail delivery is a little confusing. First the big picture, then the small. Here’s what part of a calendar page looks like. We’re on the left hand side.

On my Mac, using Chrome, everything happens on the left. There’s a “Settings” feature at the upper right corner of the browser window (not pictured), but that doesn’t control notifications, which is what you want. Instead, look to the left side for those choices. Notice that tiny downward symbol next to the “My Calendars” selection? Click that and you will get to the notification settings.

Here’s what the next window should look like. Make sure you select “email” when you choose your delivery method. Selecting the alternate, “notification”, will only give you a fleeting message on your computer screen. Which you will probably miss.

Google’s calendar feature is fairly simple and free. It keeps me aware of the book proposals, literary magazine submissions, and magazine article queries I make. It keeps past entries so I can always check back later on when I sent something in.

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A Response to Writers Market

Writers Market has a nice .pdf called Query Letter Clinic (external link) that contains many helpful hints. It also contains some assertions I don’t agree with. Consider this paragraph:

“Many great writers ask year after year, ‘’Why is it so hard to get published?’’ In many cases, these writers have spent years—and possibly thousands of dollars on books and courses—developing their craft. They submit to the appropriate markets, yet rejection is always the end result. The culprit? A weak query letter.”

Really? How do you know? The editor may not be interested in the idea. Not even if it were written by Tolstoy or Hemingway. Or maybe the material doesn’t fit their editorial calendar. Or perhaps the editor prefers to work with writers they already deal with. It may not be your fault. So, what to do?

Get efficient

Write shorter query letters, especially for newspaper (internal link) or magazine articles. An editor will let you know if your query leaves questions. Personally, I am done with crafting finely detailed, individualized query letters. My acceptance rate is so low I find it better to send more queries rather than spend more time on each one.

Write on spec

Consider writing on speculation. Certain magazines consider complete articles, without assigning a contract first. Type it up and send it in. I’ve written on this before (internal link). Even here, it’s wise to query an editor to make sure your topic fits. Just a few sentences should suffice.

All five of my Rock&Gem articles have been written on spec. One article was rejected (internal link), and that could have been avoided if I had short queried ahead of time. The topic had been covered recently and I missed the similar story when I reviewed their back issues.

Emphasize photography

Mention that you can provide original photographs or that you can arrange permissions and releases for historical photos. Editors expect today’s nonfiction writer to deliver photographs for their layout artist to arrange. You’re probably not selling to National Geographic which may assign a photographer. Even then, offer to provide your own images.

When sending photographs, remember not to include too many. The editor wants to know what images are key to the article; too many diffuses those needed to address your central theme. Consider putting your best photos at your website, to show off your talent in that regard. Hmm. That’s something I need to do. Which brings us to the next point.

Have a website

This goes without saying and I’ve written on this before. (internal link) You need an online portfolio in case an editor wants to know more about you without going through an e-mail exchange. A website is vital. And don’t run ads!

Don’t get discouraged

Silence from the editor is the normal response these days. You won’t get a critique with a rejection, if you get any reply at all. And the reason one magazine rejected you may not be the same reason as another magazine’s rejection. They could have completely different policies and needs. Despite what Writers Market says, hang in there. It may not be your fault.




Back to magazine query letters

I’m going to take the time I spent using the freelance work websites and put that back into writing query letters to traditional print magazines. A query letter a day seems manageable; we shall see if I can do it. I continue to consider video and in the background I have a good idea for an app. In my personal life, learning to ride a motorcycle is my latest challenge. Like on a bike, the goal in freelancing is to move forward, stay stable, and keep learning. Onward!

Magazine article illustration



Freelance sites continue to baffle

The three freelance sites I’m using continue to baffle me. Here’s what I’ve found out so far.

Jobs may be closed to bidding but they may not be awarded. Of the ten jobs I’ve bid in the last few weeks, only one seems to have been awarded. The rest? The job descriptions are still on-line, they are listed as closed to bidding, but there is nothing to indicate that anyone has received the assignment. I know people are notified because one job clearly states that it has been filled, with the winning bidder named.

Many assignments are impossible to bid accurately. Descriptions commonly state that they need writing help, they throw out a budget, say two or three thousand dollars, but they don’t say how many articles they want, the word count, the subject, or a deadline. How can one possibly bid this way? Query the employer? At you are not allowed to private message a job poster. There is a public message board, which some people use, but you must first have a favorable review before using the board. Which counts me out, as well as all others new to the site.

Accepting a bid can be risky and expensive. Freelance sites typically take a 10% arrangement fee. With, that money is due immediately upon accepting a job. If you are awarded a $3,000 contract you owe the site three hundred dollars. Now. Before any work has begun. You had best know, therefore, every detail about a job before you take it on. Mistakes are hard to correct. When I had to back out of a job I was given credit to apply to site charges, but not a reversal to my credit card.

Summing up? I still think freelancing sites are a good idea. The work is there, seemingly. Ever-the-optimist, I will keep submitting proposals a while longer. Another ten bids? Two things seem obvious. It will take as much effort getting work on-line as it does off-line. And, as with job hunting on the street, the hiring process, unfortunately, may remain hidden and mysterious.


Down the rabbit hole  — Amateur-Kunoichi

Recovering from dental work

Last Thursday I had a dental implant procedure. Right now I am recovering, interested more in soft food than putting out proposals. But I continue to look at the freelance sites and I am thinking of adding video to this site. Video? I may read one of my articles. A snooze fest, eh? Perhaps. If I combine the reading, though, with article photos there might be some compelling content. Or perhaps I could take you behind the scenes to explain what was needed to produce one of my articles: the relation between editor and writer, getting copyright releases, visiting photo archives, taking pictures on the road, and so on. To get this on-line I will have to learn something about video editing and production. Just the kind of quiet activity needed during a recovery.