Thursday, December 27, 2012

Why I Ponder the 4th of July on the Last Week of December

We have a light snowy dusting among the grass blades and a roaring fire on this blustery December day.

But I'm not thinking about the hot chocolate or the mittens and boots ...

.... I'm contemplating fireworks safety, best ways to quench a dying thirst on a humid summer's day and Fourth of July cookout recipes.


Well, because in the world of freelance writing, you never live in the present when it comes to pitching ideas. Magazines are on an entirely different schedule than the rest of the world. While you're sipping egg nog in the muted light of a Christmas tree, your potential editors are already thinking ahead to the layout for the St. Patrick's Day issue -- maybe even planning for Passover or Easter spreads, too.

That's why, to stay ahead of your competition, you need to think even further ahead than that.

This doesn't just apply to stories about recipes and crafts. Spin it out and think outside the box. In October, I was thinking about tax planning stories for my Realtor magazines. In December, I think about pieces for the summer tourist season for magazines that reach small business owners in resort areas. In January, I move to pitching ideas on successful job hunting for magazines that college graduates will be reading in June. By April, I'm churning back-to-school coping stories for my military magazines, because their families may have moved to a new geographic location, and they need help adjusting.

As you can see, to beat your competition and always guarantee an assignment, you don't focus on the obvious, like pitching a story in May on the best ways to set a Thanksgiving table. (Although, hey! That's a good idea, too!) You can always send those ideas, but unless you're a regular contributor to that publication, chances are they've already been assigned to one of the writers with which the editors are already familiar.

Don't sit around and complain that competition is too stiff, or the economy is bad, or that your queries keep hitting the slush pile. Just think ahead .... by about five to six months .... and then think outside the box.

Plan your July work this week, and in July, get back to me about how much money you're making.

Monday, December 3, 2012

End of Year Pitches

December: The month when we all stop for a full week to hit holiday parties and exchange gifts and eat lots and lots of cookies .....

Or do we?

If you're trying to run a freelance writing business, this month is your prime opportunity to line up work for the coming year so that you're not scrambling month to month.

Don't know where to start? That's okay, I'm here to help. Here's what I do:

1) Make a list of all of your current clients. Check out their calendars for the coming year and for any themes that will be prevalent in each monthly issue. Contact them and find out if they will entertain a list of story ideas from you.

2) When you hear back from each client (who will always say, "Yes! Send us ideas!"), work on a list of 10-12 topics. This usually takes me about eight hours to research, but if I net just one or two assignments for specific months, I'm able to schedule that and know with certainty that it's money in the bank. It's not wasted time if it results in a $1,000-$2,000 assignment, is it?

3) After you've nailed work with current clients, now research new markets. Make sure your Web site is current (in this case, I'm revamping mine this year), and go through the same process that you did with the current clients. Look at each publication's editorial calendar. Send an email to each magazine asking if they'll accept pitches. When you hear back from each one, research topics based on the calendar and send 10-12 story ideas.

This may sound like it's time-consuming, but think of it this way: If you handle this during December every night for just one hour after you sign a few Christmas cards, you'll start seeing results.

Get the work on the calendar before the year begins.

As the snow begins falling, you'll watch the assignments snowball.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Libeling "The Hobbit" - A Former AP Reporter's Take

I don't pursue stories about movies or celebrities, because it's too close to my personal interests and quite frankly would be a conflict of interest for me to cover.

But this week when a story broke about animals being mistreated on the film set of "The Hobbit," I raised an eyebrow and put my coffee cup down on the table, a little stunned.

The first part of the problem was that the source for the information was the animal rights group PETA. The second part of the problem was that the news organization that broke the story was where I used to work in the mid- to late-'90s: The Associated Press.

Understand this.

When I was with the Associated Press covering politics in the statehouse of Pennsylvania, these folks would sometimes drop in for a visit. We'd take their press releases with straight faces, but the minute they were gone, the paper was crumpled into a ball and used for hoop shooting practice with the nearest trash can.

I tell you this, because it took a lot for us to take PETA seriously.  In fact, I once was sent out on an investigation to discover whether horses that were being auctioned were being mistreated. The editor sat on my story for a full four months and didn't run it. I went on vacation, and while I was gone, a state legislator held a committee hearing on the issue. So another reporter took my work, added updated information, slapped her byline on my copy and made it her story.

This is how we treated the stories that PETA brought to us. They were afterthoughts. We did not give them credence, and we held at arm's length every ounce of information and disdainfully looked at it with the greatest amount of skepticism you can imagine. Think of a 5-year-old Shirley Temple in a pink tutu holding a dead rat by the tail. There ya go.

And here this week ... is a story going world-wide, with an Associated Press byline no less ... about PETA allegations and a film I have anticipated for months.

I'm on the fence about this whole thing. Knowing what I know about how we tiptoed around PETA as if it was a biological weapon placed on a Manhattan subway, for AP to run this story gave it instant credibility with me.

And then I read what filmmaker Peter Jackson put out on Facebook ... and I read the accounts of the owners of the animals in question, who emphatically stated that in no way were their pets mistreated. Add to this the weighing in of some of the film actors on Twitter about this, and my doubt reached new heights.

I see a few problems with the AP account. They buried the Jackson response to the allegations deep in the copy. They also quoted people who had been fired and who had chosen to speak up on the cusp of the film opening and who had an obvious axe to grind. They didn't interview the owners of the animals, either.

As a fellow journalist who worked for AP for 4 1/2 years, my initial reaction is always to go to the defense of the journalist who reported the story. I know what it's like to be the "eyes on the ground," to interview those with the concerns, to ferret out the liars and those with secret agendas, to thoroughly question and provoke with questions in order to ascertain the truth. I know how to push buttons and read body language, anger and evasiveness. And I know that when I worked for AP, we never would have run that story if we thought there was any doubt to its veracity.

But that was then.

I have seen a cavalier attitude that has been brought about by the Internet and bloggers and people who fashion themselves as "journalists" because they put pen to paper but have no training or experience other than spouting their opinions for a wide audience.

I can't vouch anymore for the strength of the journalistic integrity of an organization like the AP like I once could. And having read the statements from the Jackson camp, I am chagrined at what seems to be a rush to be the first with the story rather than a careful vetting of the facts.

Maybe there's more to this than meets the eye, and the AP hasn't yet written it. But their silence on story followup is deafening and speaks for itself.

Either way, this is a disturbing type of story: It either shines a light on mistreatment of animals during one of the most highly anticipated films of the year ... or it shines a light on egregious reporting that borders on libel.

We have entered a new era of journalism.




Thursday, November 15, 2012

Making it Sizzle

Is your keyboard sizzling?

Straight up, and no joke -- if you want to make it in this business, you need to be turning copy so fast that your fingers hurt typing.

If an editor says, "I have a story for you, but I need it Monday ..." and it's a Tuesday .... can you turn it around in six days?

Most magazine writers might sigh and complain and say it's absolutely not a possibility.

And that's what separates those of us who can from those of us who can't.

When I was in my 20s, I heard this anecdote about a journalist who learned to write sizzling leads in the back seat of a taxi. He was in a huge metropolitan area, and on his way back to the paper after every assignment, he'd jump into the nearest cab and furiously start scribbling. By the time he reached his desk, he'd just pound out the prose.

I practiced writing as fast as I could, and I would speak out loud to myself the leads of the stories I was covering, right on the spot. I hit my stride when I joined The Associated Press in Philadelphia ... and guess what ... I started writing my leads in the back seats of taxis. I grabbed on to that anecdote, and I became that person.

If you can't craft a lead in five minutes or less, then practice doing it. Listen. Your lead is the hardest part of the story that you'll ever have to write. Once you're done with that lead, IT FLOWS. It just rattles off your brain like a stream of consciousness.

OK ... now for those of you who are still dubious, I'll give you a little exercise that my J School prof taught me back in the day:

Every day, she gave us a story to research. We were not allowed to write it. We were to collect our facts. The next day, we came in with our information and sat down at our desks. She'd set a timer. For five minutes, we had to scribble out our stories, long-hand. If we lost a train of thought, we were to write, "Don't stop, don't stop, don't stop, don't stop ...." over and over and over again ... until the story thread picked up in our minds.

If she saw the pencil stop -- immediate five point dock.

Let me tell you, that I did this for four years with this J School prof. I really believe she's the reason I can do this ... but it takes practice.

So the next time an editor says, "I have a last minute assignment, but it's due in 2 days ...." TAKE IT.

And practice writing your leads in five minutes so that you won't be intimidated by such an offer.

Pretty soon, your keyboard will be sizzling so much that you won't be able to stand the heat on your fingertips.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Doing Away with Vampire Clients

It might surprise you that money isn't the top priority for me when vetting potential clients.

I do have clients who pay upwards of $1 per word ... and I have others who pay no more than 30 cents per word.

Why the mix?

My first priority is always the client's interpersonal skills when dealing with writers.

In short, I don't work for vampires.

As writers, we are a sensitive lot. We're like the proverbial pound puppies that wag our tails enthusiastically and bark, "Pick me! Pick me!" to any editor that will glance our way. We're gluttons for bylines, gluttons for ego, gluttons for pats on the back, gluttons for praise. We easily cast aside self respect in favor of acknowledgement that what we cobbled together is a poetic masterpiece.

And as a result, we are a vulnerable lot.

I can't tell you how many times during my career span I have encountered really emotionally abusive editors. I'm not sure what it is about our industry that attracts this type of individual. But I have observed over and over again how writers are continually bludgeoned. And unfortunately, those who wield the power to accept or disapprove of a person's work can take an unhealthily gleeful approach to beating someone down. This has a couple of psychological effects: 1) It throws someone off balance psychologically so that they are unsure of the quality of their work and 2) It keeps someone from demanding fair compensation.

There have been a lot of times when I've recognized this happening to me personally. But I haven't always been very good at pinpointing that the issue lies with the person dispensing criticism or praise, and less to do with my personal standards of excellence and conscientious hard work.

My personal conclusion is that to survive as a freelancer in this economic climate, I can and should only work for nice people and shun the vampires.

If someone pays less money, but they're kind, that goes a lot farther with me than someone who pays $2 a word and belittles me. I have more energy to create. I have more confidence. I have more enthusiasm. I have more stick-to-it-iveness. I have more drive. I have more imagination.

And I'm more productive.

In the short term, something as little as 30 cents a word may seem less profitable. But if I'm writing for someone who thanks me, praises me, encourages me ... my productivity heightens. Suddenly, I'm churning out copy at such a rate that my typing fingers can't keep up with my racing thoughts.

I sat down and calculated whether a story at a higher pay rate would net me more financially than doing several stories paying much less. If the editor with the higher rate is, for lack of a better word, a psychopath, is it ultimately worth it to do more work for them and less for the person who is generous with appreciation and quick to pay me?


I do more work for the individual who is generous with kindness, and I'm motivated to give them a better product.

This comes down to a quality of life issue.

If you're struggling with working for someone who is treating you more like a slave than a colleague, do yourself a favor. Evaluate the relationship. If they're sucking you dry like a vampire, cut them off and move towards the people who will always greet you with a smile and a kindness.

Kindness goes a long way, and in my case, that's both in terms of emotional well being and financial common sense.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Freelancing & Thinking Outside the Box for New Clients

I've been freelancing since 2001, and I consistently receive the question:

"How do you find your clients?"

Right now I'm shaking up my apple cart and thought this would be a good time to address it.

The first thing, right off the bat, is a no-brainer:

You have to make cold calls. And I'm not talking about a few. The percentage of return is 1. So for every 100 cold calls you make, expect one client. This is not for the faint of heart, but if you want to make it in this business and this economy, this is required. Set aside a few days in ONE week to do NOTHING but COLD CALLS, and you'll find that business starts to pick up.

But let's drill this down a little further: How do I decide WHICH type of magazines to call?

This is where I get creative, because if I don't think outside the box, I will never survive. I do NOT hit the magazines that you'll see in the supermarket stands: the Ladies' Home Journals or the Maxims. Yes, these pay a lot of money, and they'd be a plum in the pudding. But there's too much competition to get into those, and frankly, it's a waste of my time to pitch them when the odds are too high at getting a "yes."

I fly under the radar and hit the magazines that no one considers: the trade publications.

I look at it this way: 1) At this stage in my career, I don't need the ego boost of a byline in a five-star publication. At age 29, I hit my career goal, which was to land a job with The Associated Press. I successfully wrote for the AP until age 33, and after that, I was done with the ego trip. So the only reason I'd pitch the big magazines is for my ego ... and frankly, I have bills to pay, and the ego sits on the shelf. It's a matter of survival. and 2) I don't need to go after magazines that feature celebrities. I have no interest in doing interviews with celebrities. The reason is simple: I really enjoy movies, and that's an area of my life that I consider "play time." I don't want to mix work and play, and if I covered celebrities, the line would be crossed, and "play time" would no longer be fun for me. It's the same reason I'd never try to do a feature story on a Pittsburgh Steeler, either, because I've been a fan since age 10. It's too weird for me to cross those two worlds.

OK. So now we come to the question ... how do I choose my trade magazines?

I look under my nose.

What I mean by that is, think about what is governing your life -- not just your personal interests, but the day-to-day things that affect you.

Let me give you an example from my own life:

I have a child who has Asperger's Syndrome and is on a highly-functional scale of autism. "Aspies," as we call them within our community, usually have strong fixations on one particular subject and exhaust their knowledge on it. In my child's case, he loves Sonic the Hedgehog and has fixated on this gaming character since age 5. As he has matured, this fixation has morphed into a concentration on computers, software programs, gaming, you name it.

Now last night we went to a movie theater and saw a preview for a new film where a bad character in a video game wants to become good. My child has talked non-stop about this ever since then.

That got me thinking.

I went to his book shelf and pulled out a magazine that heretofore I have ignored, "Game Informer."

Would you find "Game Informer" on a supermarket shelf? I haven't seen it. We get it, because we have a GameStop membership. This publication reviews games and cross compares hardware for gaming systems and how different games play on different system apps. My kid loves it, even though it's largely written for the adult audience (another aspect of his Asperger's is that he has the reasoning ability of a 17 1/2 year-old, even though he is 9).

Now truthfully, I don't think I have enough industry knowledge to write for "Game Informer."

But this is what I'm going to do:

I'm going to go to and search trade magazines on video gaming. I'm going to search magazines devoted to autism, Asperger's Syndrome, ADHD, ADD and gifted children. I'm going to search magazines devoted to parenting. AND I'm going to search children's market magazines -- those whose audience is children, not adults.

This is a new genre for me, because my current magazines focus on real estate sales, entrepreneurship, information technology and engineering, diversity in the workplace, the military, job hunting -- and I also write for one university's alumni magazine for graduates of its business school.

You can see that I don't focus on one particular area or issue in my client list. That's because in this economy, to survive, you have to be diversified. When one area falls off (real estate, for example), another area needs me to do more writing (the military, for example).

I write for eight different trade magazines.

Now I'm going to take my little Aspergers/Sonic the Hedgehog/gaming brainstorm and spin that out and see if I can land a client in one of these related fields.

And I can tell you for certain that if I stick with my 1 percent rule, I will find at least one new client.

Will there be 100 publications on these topics? Most likely, NOT. That's why I don't stop there. I keep looking "under my nose" to see what OTHER areas in my life might lead to OTHER magazines. This was just one example of how I do it.

Hope it helps you, and if you have any questions, feel free to post here or ping me on Twitter! I usually stick with my "play time" on Twitter by chatting with people about movies. But I'm happy to answer any questions there, too, at (And if you want to know who "Mr Thornton" is, you'll just have to watch a little-known British film called, "North and South." :-)

And now I'm off to write up four stories due next week ... and then, to find any magazines that deal with Sonic the Hedgehog.

Good luck in your own hunt!

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Most Obvious Secret in the World: Changing Your Byline

Now we come to the topic that male journalists never have to face:

A name change.

I was married in 2001, and at the time, changing my name and my byline was a no-brainer. I'm a traditional girl at heart, and I actually enjoyed explaining to people why my name was different. After all, a wedding is a happy affair.

Fast forward to this year, when my divorce was finalized after a 2-year separation ... and I had a tough choice to make.

For a lot of women, the question of returning to a maiden name usually involves the emotions and well-being of their children from a marriage ... and beyond that, you have the hassle of changing the name on everything from the water bill, to voting records, to the Social Security card.

For a woman journalist, whose byline advertises her "body of work," especially now on the Internet, that name change comes with a much larger price.

I ran the whole thing by a few friends in the business, and one person who represents celebrities in LA as a publicist warded me off of changing anything. "You'll have to explain yourself to people," he said. "It's information they don't need to know."

I chewed on my lip for a few weeks after that, considering it.

In the end, I decided that my name represented more than what was on a mailing label -- or even what was printed over articles I'd written.

It went to the core of who I was before I was married ... and that I have returned to that same "person" today. When all was said and done, I wanted people to know me or remember me by the last name with which I was born, not the one that tied me to a memory of a failed marriage.

Changing a name is a very individualized decision. For sure, this one created a lot of confusion! But in the end, I'm really glad I went this route. I tell people, "My friends call me, 'Heidi,' but my closest friends -- those who know the details of my life -- call me, 'Russell.'" Since I was a teenager, "Russell" was more than a last name. It was a warm nickname. In it is tied up the feisty, mischievous and devil-may-care person who first decided she wanted to break balls in a newsroom. I still get a charge every time one of my confidants calls me on the phone and says, "Hey, Russell, what trouble are you causing today?" I still love to hear from someone who will say gleefully, "I'm so glad you went back to your old name!"

Yes, it may confuse people when they search, "Heidi Lynn Russell" and only find a handful of articles on Google. It may have been better for my own credibility to keep the moniker, "Heidi Russell Rafferty" as my official byline, because if you search that name, you'll find far more than you want to see.

That's okay.

Because Heidi Lynn Russell really isn't the same person that Heidi Russell Rafferty was.

And with that small change, even though I may not get the recognition for the volume of work that exists under the married name, I'm back to the person I was before, except stronger, better ... and wiser.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How Do I Know My Story Passed Muster?

For the second time this week, I've fielded the same question from two friends who are new to reporting and/or freelancing:

"I sent my story to my editor yesterday and have not heard anything back about it. Should I be worried that it's not good enough?"

OK. Let me say this as simply as I can:

No news is good news.

In other words, it doesn't matter if you're writing for a wire service where the story will be published as soon as possible, or for a magazine where the story won't see the light of day for another two months.

If you don't hear anything from the editor, your story is perfect.

Writers have a difficult time with this.

By our nature and personality, we thrive on positive feedback. Now, you might say to me, "Heidi, most people like positive feedback."

Um. No. Not like we do. Think about it. You get a little zinger every time you see your byline in print, don't you? I mean, I've been in this business for more than 20 years, and I even show my CHILD my byline when I get a magazine in the mail.

We LOVE the recognition we get for a well-written story.

But here's the thing:

Ironically, in an industry where everyone likes to get an atta-girl or atta-boy, those who are in power will not dispense praise.  If your story is stellar, you will NOT hear a peep from an editor.

Your pat on the back is to be published, plain and simple.

That's your reward.

If there's something WRONG with your story ... if the editor doesn't like the way you phrased your lead ... or the way you organized it ... or has a question about a source's quote ....

You WILL hear something IMMEDIATELY.

This also happens to be an industry where NEGATIVE feedback is rife. I can't explain it, I don't understand it, I hate it as much as you do, but this is the cold, hard reality. You will ALWAYS get wrist-slapped within seconds from an editor reading your beautiful prose if something is amiss.

So I want you to do one thing for me:

The next time you send in a story, don't sit by your email account and wait for a message that says, "THIS WAS THE MOST AMAZING STORY I'VE READ IN MY ENTIRE CAREER OF EDITING! YOU ARE A GENIUS! I LOVE YOU! WRITE FOR ME AGAIN! PLEASE PLEASE DON'T WRITE FOR ANYONE ELSE!"

Not going to happen.


Send your story, stop biting your nails and just know that when that magazine comes in the mail and you see your byline on an untouched story ... you did exceptionally well.

Reward yourself with that glass of wine, that bite of Godiva, that succulent bubble bath, that new pair of shoes ... however you wish.

Because the only person you're going to hear praise from ... is yourself.

Be confident that you did a good job and thank your stars that you didn't hear a peep from the editor until your eyes rested on your name in print.

If you really want to be lavished upon ... get a dog.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Covering the Tragedies: Batman and Colorado

If you're like me, you woke up to news this morning about the shooting spree in the Colorado movie theater at the showing of the latest Batman movie.

But you might be surprised at my first thought. Rightly so, many other people would think, "How tragic, how awful, how senseless ...."

My first thought?

"Thank goodness I wasn't the reporter who got the midnight call to get out of bed and cover that story."

I will never miss covering those tragedies.

Unfortunately, I was usually the first one tapped for them. I had one summer in Philadelphia as an AP reporter where we had four different house fires in which children died. For a few months after that, I had repeated nightmares about those fire scenes. Those stories always affected me on a very deep and visceral level, and regardless of whether it was a house fire, a murder scene .... and in one case, a shooting spree like this one, only at Penn State University .... I cursed under my breath when I was tasked to cover it.

"But Heidi, I send you because you always come back with gold," one of my silver-tongued editors said when I once tried to protest.

I got to thinking about it, and I realized she was right, but it wasn't because I went into those stories gleefully. In fact, it probably was because I related so well to the victims and their families that I did hit the jackpot on quotes and details no other reporter unearthed.

Here are a few things I did:

I saw the victims as real people. I never viewed them as a "story," or as my ticket to a byline on the front pages across America. They were people who had experienced a tragedy, and it was my job to give others a window into it. My only motive was that in doing so, it might raise awareness about how things like this could be avoided in the future.

I come from a community of conservative Christianity, and I can tell you that my decision to become a journalist rattled a lot of friends. They disagreed with it because from their point of view, telling stories like this exploited others. I've never seen it that way. If I've had to cover a child abuse story, for example, I see it as shining a light on the actions of perpetrators and raising awareness of the plight of the innocents. If these things are not discussed and flayed for scrutiny, what hope is there of change?

I apologized to the victims for being there. The last person they wanted to see was a reporter. The first words out of my mouth at every scene were, "I'm sorry that I have to ask you this, and I know you probably don't want to talk to me. But I wonder if you would take a few minutes to answer my questions about what happened here."

Only one person ever said no.

And when she did, I walked away, waited at the end of the street for the police to come by and begged them for details. They gave me every single detail that no one else had because I'd treated the victim with respect. No other reporter had done that, they said.

And no, I wasn't manipulating people with my questions. I gave them the option of turning me away, and if things got to be too much for them, I often didn't use the material. The editors never knew that, but the stories were still golden and crystallized beautifully.

I put myself in the victims' shoes. I never covered a tragedy where I didn't imagine myself going through what the victim had just experienced. And then I just let them talk. I just looked into their eyes and said, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." And I was. And it was heart felt. And they knew it.

Often when the interviews were over, we'd hug and cry. I never apologized for that and still don't.

When you've been assigned something like this, stop thinking about your ego and your name in lights.

Be a human being.

And give people the space they need to tell you the story they need to tell.

I promise, you'll leave each experience enriched and changed for the better.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Armchair Quarterbacking Piers Morgan with Robert Blake

A good friend of mine has been preparing to cover her first big event as a reporter -- Comic-Con in San Diego. I've been coaching her on interview tactics ... dealing with nonplussed interviewees, extracting difficult information, deftly stepping around landmine questions .... you get the idea.

And then all of a sudden, we have Piers Morgan dealing with Robert Blake. It's as if the heavens opened, because let me tell you, friends ... if you want to see a pro at work, watch this guy. I myself have interviewed some shady characters, including the Grand Dragon of the KKK in northern Maryland when I was at the tender age of 26. But I have to say that my jaw was agape in admiration at how Mr. Morgan handled this one. I immediately sent the link to my friend, now in the throes of interviewing super heroes (poor her), as an example of how to keep your cool in the face of blatant aggression. 

(I sincerely doubt she'll get any of that at Comic-Con, but one never knows when the real Hulk will come crashing through. But I digress.) 

We rarely get a chance to armchair quarterback another journalist, but just for fun, let's play this tape and dissect Piers' performance:

Problem #1: The interviewee tries to take control of the interview, by asking the interviewer to answer a question. In this case, Robert Blake says, "You wanna get to the truth if you can. Does that mean I'm lyin' to ya?"

Solution: Answer the question with a question. In this case, "I don't know. Are you?" Morgan seizes the arena by answering that he doesn't know, and immediately asks, "Are you (lying)?" Never give your opinion to someone you're interviewing. Never. To give your own viewpoint allows them to run amok and continue to dodge your question. By saying, "I don't know," Morgan also deflects the defensiveness ... which unfortunately is rising, but that can't be helped with an irrational person.

Problem #2: The interviewee persists. Blake isn't going to let this drop. He pauses and says again, "What do you think?" In this instance, you have someone who is on the ropes but fighting back hard. His refusal to answer the question in fact points to an obvious answer in our minds, but he's going to make this as uncomfortable for Morgan as possible. Morgan responds again with, "I don't know. I think we're going to get to some questions where ..." and Blake immediately interrupts with, "Well tell me where I'm lyin', 'cause if you don't know I'm tellin' you the truth, then you must have a little scratch in the back of your head about where I'm lyin'. Tell me where I'm lyin'."

Solution: Point out the logical rationale for withholding your opinion. Then demonstrate with follow-up statements or questions why your question was necessary. Morgan rightly says, "I'm saying I've met you for what? Twenty minutes?" In other words, how would I know you're lying when I don't know you? This still keeps the question front and center in the interviewee's lap. The interviewee may continue to get angry about this, but your readers or viewers plainly see who isn't being rational here.

Blake, in fact, continues to thrash. Morgan keeps his head and asks, "Why are you being so defensive?" Brilliant. By asking this, it underscores Blake's combativeness and continues to keep the question burning brightly.

Problem #3: The interviewee accuses the interviewer of unprofessional behavior. Has this ever happened to you? It's happened to me countless times when people have tried to evade questions. In this case, Blake answers, "Because you just insulted me." Again, he's trying to knock Morgan off balance by turning around any question of blame onto the questioner, when he in fact will not answer a question of blame before him.

As he continues, he tries to play the victim. He holds up his hand in a pleading manner and says, "My skin is a little bit thin, which is why I stay away from people mostly." Here, he's trying to gain the viewers' sympathy. He continues, "I've never allowed anybody to ask me the questions that you're asking. I allowed you to do that, because I trust you."

I have to hand it to Blake. He's what I call a skilled manipulator. The most difficult state senator I ever interviewed was someone who also played the victim with me when I asked a pointed question, knowing the whole time that both he and I knew he was at fault. I've seen more than one person play what I will now coin, "The Blake Sympathy Card."

He drops his supreme trump card next: "And I woulda assumed that you and that guy in your ear would trust me. And if you don't, then we better start talking about 'The Little Rascals.'"

Solution: Give him rope to hang himself. At this point, you just have to let the person keep talking. I mean, look at that quote! It's priceless! And by not answering the question, Blake has answered the question. 

Morgan also maintains cool composure, which is essential in these interactions. The only thing that gives away his stress level? He taps the fingers of his right hand nervously on the desk. But unless you've looked at this recording more than once like I have, you'd miss it.

I'll tell you what always gave my stress level away: I blush. I can't control it, either! I feel my face get hot, and by that time, the interviewee gets this horrible smile, knowing that I'm squirming inside.

But there's good news to all of this ... if you've made it this far with a combative person, you've won. You have their words. You have their persona. You have their defensiveness. You might even have a physical threat or two (yes, I've had those anonymous notes placed on my car windshield).

But most importantly, you have the story. Tell it straight and let the readers or viewers make their own deductions.

And in the end, those deductions are all that really matter.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I've Been Given a "Sunshine Award" :-D

Well it looks like I have been given a "Sunshine Award" from my friend at "Armitage Watch!" (


Although this has nothing to do with journalism, apparently there are 10 questions I must answer, in exchange for receiving this lovely and gracious nod. So now the tables have been flipped, and the journalist is the "interviewee."

I would be a spoiled sport if I didn't participate, so here we go!

What is a favorite childhood memory? 

Christmas mornings at my grandparents' farm in Georgia, we had fried quail for breakfast. Today, I've only been able to find quail once in a very posh restaurant ... but I can tell you it didn't come close to the quail we had after opening gifts from Santa. 

What is a real fear you have? 

Any harm befalling my child. :-(

How would you describe yourself?

I'm like a dolphin -- carefree, engaging, fun loving and trusting.

What countries have you lived in? 

Only the United States!

What is your style?

Shabby chic comfort and Ann Taylor classic.

What is your favorite breakfast food?
Sausage gravy over country biscuits.

What are some of your hobbies?

Playing the piano, reading 19th century classics, yoga, baking anything chocolate, experimenting with gourmet recipes, antiquing (when I can afford it), ventriloquism and ... I'm planning on more horseback riding when I pluck up the courage again!

If you could tell people anything, what would be the most important thing to say? You won't gain an hour by worrying. Conquer it by only looking at the 24 hours in front of you and trusting God to get you through one day. Don't look ahead any farther than that.

What is one of your passions?

 My chief passion at the moment is to raise a future "Mr. Darcy" and protect my child's mind and heart so that he grows to become a noble and true soul.

What is the one truth you have learned?

Nothing else matters but keeping God first. The rest falls into place.

I'm supposed to nominate other bloggers .... so here are my top picks. Check out these cool people:

The Most Important Question to Ask in an Interview

Pull up a chair, get your coffee (or bourbon, whatever your poison), and get your pencil and paper ready, because I'm about to share with you the most important question you should ever ask in an interview.


OK, but before we get to that ....

Think about all of the interviews you've done and the most frustrating aspect to them.

If you're anything like me, it's usually the sense that even after the person finally opens up to you, you still feel like something, somewhere, is missing.


You can't put your finger on it exactly, but you just know that within that person is a goldmine of information -- something they'd really like to tell you. But for whatever reason, even if you were as gifted as a 60 Minutes interrogator, you just can't pull it out of them.

Maybe they're deliberately holding it back. Maybe they're not sure they want to tell you. Or maybe they do want to tell you, but your questions have put them off, or your mannerisms. Maybe they are just DYING to let someone know this one thing, but they don't even realize it themselves!

How do you get that piece of platinum off of their tongue?


You ask the most important question to ask in an interview.

But before we get to that ....

First I want you to think about all of the preparation you do before an interview. Suppose you're doing an interview with ... well, let's make this really fun: Think of your favorite movie star -- someone who really floats your boat. Just to give this a little zing for me (It's my blog, after all!) ... Let's use MY favorite movie star, Richard Armitage. Now you're sitting in front of Richard, completely star-struck. And if you're a good journalist, you've done all of your homework. You've researched his career, his movies, his theatrical performances, even the voice-overs he's done for television commercials. You know his childhood best friend's name, and you even have unearthed the comfort food that his mother prepared for him when he was ill at 6 years old. (No, I haven't done all of these things! I don't have an interview with him. Yet. :-)

You come armed with your knowledge and the best-ever questions known in the entire history of journalism ....

And yet, I can tell you that you still haven't asked the most important question to ask in an interview.

Take a sip of your coffee (or bourbon -- got a Mint Julep? Good, because I'm offering pearls, here).

Here it is.

At the very end of the interview, you pack up your things. Put away your tape recorder. Shut down the videocam. Put your pencil behind your ear, and fold your notebook into the closed position.

Then say this:

"This interview has been fabulous, so thorough, in fact, that I can't think of one more thing to ask you! Thank you so much for this and for all of your time!"

The person will nod and smile and usually extend their hand and say it was nice to meet you.

And then say:

"You know what? I was just thinking ...."

Here we come to the moment of truth .......... drum roll, please .................. the most important question to ask in an interview is ....................

"Is there anything we haven't talked about or anything you'd like our readers to know that I haven't asked you?"

Now watch the person's face. Look into their eyes intently.

They will say, "No, I can't think of anything! This has been really great!"

You will turn and smile and get ready to go, and then ...

"But there's just one thing. Wait a minute."

Get your notebook out! FAST! This is the moment.

Because in this moment, you will hear the one thing they really want to tell you.

I have been in my job for 22 years. I learned this advice from my first editor, Bob Orr, at The Coatesville Record in Coatesville, Pennsylvania -- now no longer in existence -- and it only had 6,000 readers. This little newspaper, where my Mountain-Dew-guzzling editor sat behind a crusty old desk, is where I first heard this nugget of wisdom.

And Bob was right.

Every time, every single blasted time, you will get the gold -- but you have to ask the most important question to ask in an interview first.

Try it, and let me know how it works for you.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Journalist's Life: The Observer on the Fringes

Recently a friend of mine decided to try her hand stringing for a paper and covering a local school board.

The problem was that the editor had assigned her to the school district where her children attend. A busing controversy was on the table for discussion. My friend covered the meeting and quoted parents who were against the initiative.

And if you're a journalist, you can probably guess what happened next: The people who were quoted said they never said what they said.

(We've heard that before, haven't we?)

Luckily, my friend had the backing of witnesses and also a recording. In fact, she'd quoted the folks accurately, and as you already know, they were just angry that they were spotlighted as the jackasses they really are.

Now you'd think it would stop there, but it heats up a little: These people also were my friend's friends. So right on the heels of this story, there was a birthday party ... and then following that, there were other social events .... and if you've ever covered a nasty story where everyone is throwing rocks at each other, you know the result: My friend has been dealing with some pretty nasty comments, gossip and ostracism.

As a stringer who had no experience covering local stories, it's understandable how someone could find themselves in this position. And as I've been talking to her about how to deal with it, it has brought up some introspection and revelation about myself and my career.

I discovered that I've always been an observer of life on the fringes. I started my career at age 23 and am now 47. That's 24 years of watching people. Even after I left newsrooms 12 years ago to go full-time freelancing, I never really jumped full-force into the pool of society. Maybe it was out of habit. Maybe it was out of fear. Maybe it was from cynicism that I knew people were not as they portrayed themselves. Maybe it was from simple lack of social skill development! After all, I've kept the rest of society at bay purposely.

The bottom line here is that as journalists, we can't afford the luxury of being in the world like everybody else. If you're going to cover a story, you have to remain objective. That's impossible to do if you're friends with those involved with the subject matter. Kudos to you if you've pulled this off, but face it. We're all human. Eventually, someone is going to get to you.

You may be skeptical that I have kept up this mantra for two-and-a-half decades.

But after I thought about my friend's scenario, I realized that I really have. My closest friends are those who worked alongside me in newsrooms -- or were friends of those newsroom friends. Those of you who know me might say, "Well you're a Christian. Certainly you have friends from church." Nope! I had many cases where people within churches didn't want to socialize with me because they knew I was a reporter. I had another scenario where I questioned the finances of one church where I'd gotten heavily involved and was attacked on the Internet by those members.

Whether it's by personality or the constricts of the journalist's job .... If you're thinking of getting into this profession, please know this right up front: You will see people as they are, and you are not going to be popular. If you're not okay with that, find another profession, for your own peace of mind.

And if you are ... welcome to the brotherhood that we call, "Journalist."

Monday, May 28, 2012

Red Flags When "Hiring" a Client

I consistently see an attitude of desperateness among fellow freelance writers when looking for clients. Allow me to wax Steel Magnolia on you for a moment:


This grab-the-gold-first-before-someone-else-gets-it mentality is so carpetbagger. And it's beneath you.

Let me make things easy.

First of all, adopt the attitude that they're not hiring you. You're hiring them.

Call me arrogant, but it's the way I've always approached job interviews, and when I look at things through this perspective, I see things clearly.  For one thing, it rids you of that wholly unattractive stance of being the one who needs them more than they need you. And for another, it gives you strength of mind to cut through smoke and mirrors that may cloud your judgment on what working with them will be like in the future.

I've recently completed a divorce and am back "out there" among a sea of suitors. I realized that hiring a client is not dissimilar at all to dating. We all know the "red flags" we're supposed to heed when we go on a date. But how many of us apply the same rules to choosing clients?

Still scratching your beard in bemused puzzlement? OK, well at the risk of exposing too much about my personal approach to courtship, here are my guidelines to finding (and hiring) a compatible client:

Red Flag #1: They believe you're lucky to be with them, not the other way around. How do you know this? They say, "You'll get a byline" and 10 cents a word ... or worse than that, "You'll get a byline" and nothing else. If you want people to value your work, then act like a professional and demand fair compensation. Still confused about how much to charge? Go to for a list of suggested rates, or better yet, consult the U.S. National Writers Union for theirs.

Red Flag #2: They demand exclusivity immediately. It's one thing if you've written for someone for 11 years (like I have with one of my clients), and they're willing to pay you well in exchange for you not writing for a competitor. But if someone is demanding that you sign an exclusivity agreement for a first-ever assignment? Are you sure you want to commit so early?

Red Flag #3: They don't keep their promises.  I worked for a client for a couple of years who suddenly decided they were going to wait to pay me a grand until after the story ran. I asked, "When is the story going to run?"

They didn't know.


If you do a fair day's work for a fair day's pay, it's only fair they deliver as promised. Now if you worry that by severing the relationship, you'll be back out in the cold alone .... think of it this way: If you don't kick this client to the curb, you could be missing out on someone else who will pay you on time and pay you well. Don't assume (warning: Jane Austen reference coming up) that because you're being courted by Mr. Wickham that it means Mr. Darcy isn't waiting for you to come to your senses.

Red Flag #4: They find fault with everything you do. You might be surprised to know that many writers will actually continue to write for people who insult their work, browbeat them, change their copy into an unrecognizable monstrosity and otherwise abuse them endlessly. This may sound extreme, but these editors are alive and well and seeking the next writer's jugular on which to feast. Don't become their prey. Just say no. Is it worth your peace of mind or self-esteem? Do you know what that type of person does to another one's creative output? WALK. AWAY. I make it my personal mantra to only work for nice people, and I heartily encourage you to do the same. Life is too short.

I'd put up a red flag about bad kissing but .... oh, never mind. There should be a law against putting the words, "kissing" and "editor" in the same sentence, and we are not going there.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Heidi and the Terrible Horrible No Good Rotten Day

I'm a freelancer, but I'm also a single mom, which means that we love the "new bedtime story classics," like "Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Rotten Day." This little book has been one of our favorites for bed-time reading.

Today, I'm substituting Alexander's name for mine, because quite frankly, I think I've earned it.

Ever wonder what a freelance writer's life is like on the home front? No, we don't spend the entire day in fuzzy pink slippers and Mickey Mouse T-shirts from Disney World, although I wish today I'd just stayed clad in that getup with my head under a pillow.

It all started with a little plastic toy named Chop Chop the Monkey. Before I could swig down a gulp of Moroccan green mint tea, my kiddo had demolished my room.

"WHAT are you doing?"

"I've lost Chop Chop, and I figured it must be in your bed," he said in a pile of disheveled down.

"Why ever would Chop Chop be in MY bed?"

"Oh, here he is!" and the little monster grabbed his monkey and went tearing off.

Now that wouldn't be so bad, but then I went into what I call "prep time" for one of my magazine interviews. If you're a writer, you'll understand this crucial time before you chat someone up for the pertinent details of their life and times. I researched the interviewee and assembled interview questions, all to the background sound of the kiddo singing a loud and off-key rendition of, "Love is a Many Splendored Thing" while he was doing God-knows-what in the bathroom .... and I had three minutes to go before I made my phone call ... when all of a sudden ....

"UH OH!"

The bathroom door SLAMS, and I hear the linen closet door open with many mumblings of, "I gotta take care of this before she sees it!" .... and of course, you have guessed that it was a case of too much paper in the porcelain throne with a nice flood of lovely items strewn across the floor ....

But NOW it was time for my interview .... so I commanded the little stinker to wash his hands and pull up Phineas and Ferb on the Internet while I called the poor soul two minutes late.

After the interview (yes, I pulled it off), I scoured the bathroom with rubber-gloved hands and Clorox, unclogged the offending toilet, threw towels in the laundry .... when I heard ...


.... only to peek into the room of the child who obviously was raised by wolves and had been dropped off at my doorstep ....

And if you're a parent, you know Legos, right? Well do you know about ultra tiny Legos, the ones that are so tiny that they're about the size of the top of your pinky finger?


Those were strewn in the nooks and crannies of the carpet divots, along the sides of the walls ....  and mingled with ... you guessed it ... popcorn kernels.

Apparently, this child popped himself a bag of buttery movie-style Orville Redenbacher while I was on the magazine interview and somehow the thing imploded along with the tiny Lego pieces delivered on Christmas Day from a sadistic relative.

We spent 45 minutes cleaning the room. Yes. It took 45 minutes.

I returned to my laptop to see that a response had come in for an interview request with another magazine.

What met my eyes pretty much was the cherry on the sundae, the pinnacle of Everest, the spindle of the Eiffel and the speed of the Concorde to this lovely day ...

"We want to participate in the interview, but just send us the interview questions and we'll write the story ourselves."

We'll write the story ourselves?

For one red-hot second, I forgot my laptop wasn't a pillow and almost threw it against the wall, because never in my 22 years of writing for a living has anyone said anything remotely like that to me.

As a freelancer, you have a choice at that point. You can get huffy and insult the intelligence quotient of the PR person who obviously just completed 3rd grade and moved right into the job "representing" their client ... or do what I did: Let the editor handle it.

In my newsroom days, we would've laughed in the person's face and used EXTREMELY COLORFUL language to tell them exactly what we thought of that little idea. But as a freelancer and single mom who has to keep a roof over my child's head and food on the table, these battles are not mine to fight.

I politely gave the person the editor's phone number and took out my frustration (which by now had reached Vesuvius-exploding levels) .... on my house. I walked around with Clorox for the next 30 minutes and scoured every surface .... took a deep breath, prepared my child's lunch and decided that after we'd eaten, I'd dive back into part 2 of my day, which involves more magazine interviews and story research for a second and third magazine, respectively.

Just as I was stepping out of the kitchen with a prepared plate of food, the little urchin comes tearing around the corner.

"I have to dig into the trash outside!"

Dead silence.


"I threw Chop Chop away when we were picking up the Legos and the popcorn."


And on that note, I hope your day is going splendidly.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Sources Who Make the Cut

OK, so there is no real easy way to explain to PR professionals why some of your sources make the cut for a story and others don't.

But I had a scenario arise this week with a story I was doing on a tight deadline. The course of events are a perfect illustration as to how these particular people made the final cut into the piece.

First of all, let me say that I almost always (always!) only quote three people in the average story of about 1,000 words. That's been the rule of thumb during my 22 years in the business.

Now let me show you how that played out this week:

I've used a resource for about a dozen years called Profnet. If you're unfamiliar with it, Profnet allows journalists to post online the particulars of a story they've been assigned and who they would like to interview for the story. I've used it since I worked for The Associated Press in the late 1990s, and as a freelancer, it is my first go-to place when I need to quote people from around the nation who I otherwise would never encounter.

So on Tuesday, I put up a Profnet request for one of my stories, which is due this coming Sunday (in the next 2 days).

And just like in the past, the responses came flooding. Within about three hours, I had a list of about 10 sources from which to choose. 

If I'd been working for AP and had a deadline of "five minutes ago," I would have taken the first responders. As this was a magazine story with more flexibility on time, I could carve through the list at my leisure and choose the best options.

Now some people respond to Profnet with a very long email that lists their qualifications. Others respond by specifically addressing the story topic and citing statistics or data that pertain to it. (Those are usually my first choices.) And others don't need to go that far. For example, if one of my responders is a well-known politician, author or celebrity, they are an automatic "yes." Sorry to be blunt about it, but the big names carry a lot of weight and credibility and interest with my readers.

I have 1,000 words of copy to write, and my editors are strict that I keep story length. But everyone who responded looked great for this topic, so I chose five sources.

Now we come to a crucial juncture, because not all of those sources are still going to be in the story. Do you know who gets in?

Those who make it into the story are those who set up the interview immediately and then actually are there when I call them on the phone.

It's as simple as that. Line up the interview asap and then be ready to take the call.

You'd think that every person would make it.

But they don't.

And you'd think that each person who stands me up and calls me later will still get in.

But they don't. (Unless they're a celebrity, they don't.) 

The reason is simple.

My time is valuable.

Yes, I'm a freelancer, and as such, you might think my time is flexible. It's not. I freelance for a reason -- to be able to aptly balance my work life and personal life. If I say to someone, "I have five interviews on Monday, but I can get you in at 2:30 and have a hard stop at 3 p.m. to meet my child's school bus," that's what I mean. I make no apologies for mentioning the school bus. Some people may say that's unprofessional, but I'm an open individual and want others to understand where I'm available and where I'm not and why I'm not. If the interviewee stands me up and calls at 3:20 p.m. when I'm now engaged with doing homework with my child? Too bad.

The reason I can adopt this flippant attitude goes back to what I said earlier. Let's rewind it, shall we? .............. I had 10 people respond to the Profnet and selected five. Five are too many for 1,000 words. If you stand me up, you might be doing me a favor (unless you're a celebrity). If you stand me up and I still need a source, guess what? There are five more people in the wings who didn't make the first cut who are ready to be quoted in your place.

So now, I'm writing my story.

And do you know how many people are in it?


One stood me up. One didn't get back to me quickly enough. I only have enough copy room for three, anyway. 

One last thing. You may wonder, "What would you have done if all 5 had been available as promised?" Sometimes that happens. But there are always at least two of them who have their own agenda and don't want to play along with the story angle assigned by the editor. Always.

And they get chucked.

I always end up with three.

And now if you'll kindly excuse me, I have a story to write.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Siphoning Off the Muse

Every now and again you may get a very dry assignment -- one that makes your eyes glaze over and creates nightmare-quality writer's block.

I'm in the middle of one of these writing marathons this weekend, hammering out three stories for three different magazines, all of them tough. Face it. When you find the subject boring as a writer, how on earth will you make it interesting for your readers? Added to that challenge is the constant temptation to go on to other activities, when the words on your screen are at a minimum uninspiring.

In moments like these, I siphon off someone else's Muse.

You know that spark of creativity that grabs you at 3:48 a.m. and won't let go until you sit down and write as quickly as you can thoughts that are pouring into your mind like water from a fire hose? Sometimes you won't always have it. But I guarantee you that someone else out there does. So do what I do. Find them. Draw from the inspiration they provide. In short order, you'll find that your own imagination is soaring.

Last night, as I was in one of these writer's block funks, I was pinging around Youtube and discovered a little miracle named Akiane Kramarik. This child is like Mozart on canvas. Her artistic gifts began at the tender age of 4, and to see what she's created since then is nothing less than awe-inspiring.

Here's a link to her site:

If you go to her Gallery section, not only do you view her work, but accompanying it is an explanation behind each piece. As I studied her art, I became mesmerized. I looked for interviews with her and discovered that six days per week, this child rises at 4 a.m. and spends five to six hours in her studio.

So this morning, when I was faced again with my droll little assignment, I siphoned off Akiane's muse. I imagined her in her studio, dedicated to finishing whatever work was placed before her, creating genius gems before the sunlight hit her side of the globe.

And the words began to flow for me.

Give this a try, whether it's to draw from someone else's art, writing, musical compositions, even scientific discoveries. Find an inspiring creator. You will discover that you begin to siphon their Muse energy, and before you know it, writer's block will be a faint memory.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Low-Hanging Fruit

I've been freelancing full-time coming up on 11 years now, and I constantly get the question, "How did you survive the Recession?"

I'm going to share a secret with my fellow freelancers, one that I've mostly kept to myself. But for those of you who are serious about entrepreneurship, it bears repeating:

Go for the low-hanging fruit.

What do I mean by that?

Simply this: You'll never see my byline in magazines like Good Housekeeping or Glamour. The reason is very strategic -- the magazines you pick up in the supermarket are the magazines that everyone pitches for work. They're the first places writers will go for assignments.

Do you realize how many queries those editors get per day? You might as well throw a stone at the Empire State Building, hoping it reaches the observation deck.

Now I'm not saying it can't be done, and if you have successfully pitched those magazines and landed an assignment, my hat is off to you. But if you want to make a living at this -- if you want to pay your electric bill and feed your children -- don't even bother with the highly-competitive glossies.

Go for the low-hanging fruit.

There are scores of magazines out there that may not get national recognition but still do stand-up journalistic work and make you proud that your byline is included in them.

Visit They have an extensive database of every single trade magazine imagined, on every continent, in numerous languages. Spend a week researching markets you'd like to hit. Then look for the magazines that none of your colleagues are considering and pitch them. only charges about $6 per month for this exhaustive service, but I sincerely doubt that most would-be freelancers give it a second thought.

I had to come to a difficult realization 11 years ago: The chances that I'd land a byline in one of the large supermarket magazines were slim. I analyzed why this made me upset, and you know what the bottom line was? My emotions about this were not tied to money, but were solely affected by whether someone at that magazine thought I was good enough to print. It was all about my ego.

I examined my body of work, and I came to the realization that I'm good. Really good. I don't need a New York City editor or a 28-year-old hot shot to give their approval. I know that my work is quality-driven, that I'm honest, that I'm creative, that I'm thorough and that I'm objective. A byline in one of those magazines is just fuel for my ego.

When I was able to reconcile that one little fact, hitting the trade magazines no longer seemed unpalatable.

And you know what?

I started grabbing one assignment after another, and my business made it through one tough Recession, despite the fact that many talented journalists were being laid off and were flooding my freelance market.

Go for the low-hanging fruit.

I promise you -- your ego will not suffer, and your business will do just fine.