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Since its inception in the 1980s, the IWOC monthly newsletter, Stet, has featured helpful news, tips, and information for IWOC members and the entire Chicagoland freelance writing community—including previews and recaps of IWOC meetings and events, book and service/software reviews, and advice for developing and sustaining business as an independent writer. As of January 2018, the standard monthly newsletter format has been replaced with the blog format contained on this page, which allows articles to be posted in a more timely fashion, and members to be more interactive by leaving comments. (Simply click on the 3 vertical dots next to each blog's headline.)

We invite contributions from all interested parties both inside and outside of IWOC. Our only criteria are writing quality and the usefulness of the information to independent writers. For information regarding submissions, contact the Stet editor.

ViSIT THE Stet ARCHIVES

Over the years, the Stet delivery format has evolved from snail-mailed paper copy to emailed PDF/HTML file to site-hosted, aggregated blog. Stet issues in PDF/HTML and aggregated-blog format from 2002 to 2017 are available for viewing in our archives.

  • To view PDF/HTML issues of Stet (published from 2002 to 2015), click here.
  • To view Stet in its aggregated-blog format (published from 2016 to 2017), click here.

  • 06 Jul 2018 9:21 AM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    IWOC member and author Tephra Miriam at the 2018 Printer's Row LitFest, proudly promoting IWOC and the works of IWOC authors -- including her own recently published book for Young Adults, Escape to Clown Town. 

    -  photo by Alicia Dale

    (Members can comment by clicking on the vertical dots next to the headline.)

  • 19 Jun 2018 2:25 PM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    Presented by the Association for Women Journalists, the “Fearless Freelance Pitch Clinic” featured a stellar panel sharing candid tips and tricks to get your ramp up your Freelance Career.

    Photo (L to R Marissa Conrad, @Marissa_Conrad (New York Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, Washingtonian Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler) Adrienne Samuels Gibbs, @AdrienneWrites ‏ (Forbes, Vice, Marie Claire, Chicago, Good, Northwestern, Ebony) Britt Julious @britticisms (New York Times, Women's Health, SPIN, Chicago Tribune) moderated by Kimberly Bellware @bellwak ‏ (Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Vice, BuzzFeed, ChicagoMagazine)

    Last week, as an Event of Interest, IWOC e-blasted its members an invite to “The Fearless Freelance Pitch Clinic,” hosted by the Association for Women Journalists. I couldn’t resist. I had to go. If you couldn't make this two hour session, you missed out . . . the session was overflowing with valuable tips and tricks for anyone interested in embarking on a Freelance Career in Journalism – although several of the tips can apply to freelancers in general. Here's a summary of some Don'ts and Do's shared by the Panel:

    DON'T . . .
    • Misspell your editor's name. Seems simple, but doing so likely sends your pitch right to "trash", no matter how great it is. How can you attest you have attention to detail when. . . well you get it.
    • Spray and pray when pitching ideas. Have focus and developed stories.
    • Overlook less sexy publications. While it's great to have a byline in a readily recognizable publication, trade publications and industry journals often pay more. Not to be overlooked!
    • Abuse Social Media by hounding your contacts, or even worse, asking their friends to intervene. “Could you tell so-and-so to call me?” . . . don't!
    • Let being turned down keep you down. Any pitch can be flipped. Remain confident, know what you are good at. It's your greatest asset after all. While a gentle reminder on Don'ts doesn't hurt, we can all slip when we get lazy, a little fearful or over-confident. It's much more fun (and profitable) to focus on all the things you can DO to launch your Freelance Career. So bookmark this page and take a gander:
    DO . . .
    • Know your story and the publication you're pitching. Have your sources ready or at least accessible and identified so that you can pitch your source. Have a longer list of sources than needed available so you can ensure a quick turnaround time.
    • Seek inspiration on publications to pitch by going to your local library or a Barnes and Noble. Remember your stories can be repurposed with a different angle. Be careful not to pitch the same thing over and over. Instead pitch a story with a unique insight on the same topic, freshening it up for readers and for your source(s). Also remember anything you publish can be repuprosed into a longer story, a podcast or a video. Remember to get rights to any new projects in your agreement.
    • Manage relationships, handle rejection gratefully - they took your call after all. Journalism is a small world. Everyone talks in this business! Nudge and follow up appropriately. Know the difference between aggressive and overly aggressive. You kind of have to feel it. Well-thought out follow ups are so appreciated!
    • Use "Hello" or "Good Morning" if you don't know the editor or how to spell their name. It’s perfectly acceptable.
    • Take work when you're starting out, regardless of what it pays. You'll gain experience . . . and ultimately have good stories to tell.
    • Let your pitch sell you and the story. Don't have a big portfolio to share? The quality of your pitch will tell your story.
    • Learn as much as you can about your publication. Check out the online media kit. Follow the editors on Twitter. Twitter is being used to save time, seek stories and promote opportunities. It's easy!
    • Bring the editor something new if you're trying to break in, especially publications with paywalls.
    • Format Properly Use ALL CAPS in the subject line (note it's a PITCH and if it's TIME SENSITIVE). Add your work in a PDF attachment. Formatting can get funky in email.
    • Ask editors why they rejected your story. They may tell you exactly what you need to do to get the deal next time.

    The Big Question - What to Charge??

    As your portfolio grows, have an idea of what you will charge and what you will accept. Check the anonymous and crowd-sourced Who Pays Writers for rates.

    Why did I start with Don'ts and end with Do's? It's an old training trick. Your audience will remember the last thing you said "don't think of a Pink Elephant." See???

    Instead of that silly image, I'll leave you with the closing comments of the impressive panel. They offered to be accessible to "pay it forward." After you follow this outline and are rocking it, remember as you are reaching the next rung on the ladder to pay it forward too . . . and pull the next struggling Freelancer up behind you.

    - Alicia Dale

    (Members can comment by clicking on the vertical dots next to the headline.)

  • 17 Jun 2018 1:11 PM | Laura Stigler (Administrator)

    The Audiobook format is taking off like gangbusters -- as IWOC has been well aware! Precisely why the talented Chicago actor and voiceover artist Kevin Theis was invited to present this hot topic at IWOC’s May meeting. (For the podcast, IWOC members can click on the Member Resource page under the “For Members” tab on IWOC’s website.)

    Shortly after that program, the New York Times spotlighted this exploding area of publishing. Here are some excerpts from the NYT article:

    • [There’s] “a growing group of A-list authors bypassing print and releasing audiobook originals, hoping to take advantage of the exploding audiobook market.”
    •  “Cellphones now function as audiobook players. People who felt they had little time to read are now listening while they commute, exercise or do chores. Consumers bought nearly 90 million audiobooks in 2016, up from 42 million in 2012, driving audiobook sales up to $2.1 billion, according to the Audio Publishers Association.”
    •  “With publishers holding on to more of their audiobook rights,” Audiobook studios have “started approaching agents and authors directly to buy audio rights before book proposals even get submitted to publishers.” 

    So attention all authors: You may want to seriously consider getting on the audiobook bandwagon — just another way to create a revenue stream that could have you reaping more book sales! 

    Read the New York Times article athttps://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/02/books/audible-michael-lewis-audiobooks.html  If the link doesn’t work, Google “Want to Read Michael Lewis's Next Work? You'll Be Able to Listen to It ...

  • 01 Jun 2018 10:10 AM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    I was just about to don my Tour Guide cap, hop on our IWOC tour bus and take you around to explore more of IWOC’s inner sanctum. But in searching for points of interest on the Members Resource page, I came upon a most fascinating artifact. Or rather, article. It was written by...wait for it...yours truly. And it actually made sense! Veteran or rookie, I thought you might get something out of it. So I’m posting it here and taking a much needed Tour Busman’s holiday.

    Any “advice bites” you’d like to add? Do leave a comment!

    Top Ten Freelance Advice Bites
    1. GET TRAINED. If you’re considering going freelance, it’s advisable to get at least a year of experience in a full-time job. You’ll hone your skills, learn the way the biz works, etc. Nobody baby-sits freelancers. You’re expected to hit the ground running.
    2. ASK STUPID QUESTIONS. It’s okay. Freelancers are often new to a project or business that the staff is intimately familiar with. Clients understand this and are happy to explain the basics. It shows your genuine interest in their business and concern for getting it right. 
    3. OWN THE BIZ. Be as excited about the client’s business as if it were your own. There's intrinsic drama in just about everything. They make thingamajigs? Hey, thingamajigs rock!
    4. PROVIDE ADDED VALUE – in other words, more than the client bargained for.
    5. SAY “YES” TO MORE WORK. When you’re overloaded, say “yes” to a new project anyway. Deadlines are usually staggered and often you have more time than you realized. Perform triage – tend to the “emergencies” first.
    6. SAY “YES” TO THE UNKNOWN. Sometimes you can be asked to do a type of assignment or work on a subject you’ve never dealt with before. And may be a bit apprehensive about accepting it. Jump in. You’ll surprise yourself at what you can do, and it will add to the diversity of your portfolio.
    7. WHEN TO SAY “NO.” Don’t hesitate to turn down work if: a) It’s not at all in your wheelhouse. b) You’d be miserable working on it. c) It goes against your deep-seated beliefs. Why torture yourself? Freelance should be fun! Also, d) If it’s way below your pay grade. Know your worth. Have some self-respect!
    8. YOUR ONE AND ONLY. Treat every client like that. Don’t act as if you have “more important” assignments to work on. Every client should be made to feel special.
    9. ZIP THE LIPS. Never talk to Client A about Client B. Client A will think you talk about them, as well. And unless asked, don’t talk about your successes with other clients. They’d much prefer to hear how you’ll help them succeed.
    10. LISTEN. You’ll impress clients more by letting them do most of the talking.

    - Laura Stigler

    (Members can comment by clicking on the vertical dots next to the headline.)

  • 15 May 2018 8:33 AM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    Membership in IWOC offers each of us many benefits. We learn about and get helpful pointers regarding many writing genres as well as subjects such as publishing, copyrights, and promoting our services. All of this takes place in what appears to be a smooth flowing sequence of planning and producing. Yet, there’s a lot of effort, a considerable amount of personal involvement by a small number of IWOC members to make it all happen.

    Like other kinds of projects, the availability of many helpful hands results in minimizing the commitment required of the participating individuals. That kind of cooperation also assures continuity of services that contribute to our organization’s value.

    So, this is an urgent plea to all members. Volunteer a small amount of your personal time to any of several needs, most of which require only common sense and a willingness to work with others. Whether it’s serving a term as a Director or being part of a team that’s fully responsible for IWOC’s programming or membership or website or communications—we need your assistance. The payback is the experience you’ll gain in collaborative participation as well as the satisfaction in keeping IWOC fully functional.

    The first step awaits you right now. Just contact by email any of the following committee officers to express your interest and availability. You’re bound to receive an eager and grateful response.

    - Richard Eastline

    (Members can comment by clicking on the vertical dots next to the headline.)

  • 10 May 2018 9:54 AM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    Writers working in coffee shops is so commonplace it's almost stereotypical. Ever been to the KibbitzNest? I have. I dropped by as I was walking North up on Clybourn Street. I saw the sign and thought I'd have a rest. KibbitzNest is like no other coffee shop in Chicago. Technology is not encouraged -- a real respite. Rather, KibbitzNest fosters conversation and interaction. I saw people playing board games, having lunch, sitting alone, browsing used books for sale, sipping tea, enjoying a glass of wine, a light bite or even a Moscow mule. Each room is a little treasure in itself, interesting artwork hangs on the wall, books are available to read or buy, fun quotes are posted in the washrooms, games are available to play. If you have a small car, there's even free parking available. I'm sure you're wondering, let me confirm, we really are in Chicago.

    The experience became even more surreal as I saw a sign posted for a seminar called "Life in the Freelance Lane: Learn to make a living with your writing from accomplished, successful writers." No way. This was something I had always thought about. I have written training material, business reports, sales proposals, taken creative writing courses for fun. I have a stack of journals and musings from my travels. Why not?

    A week later I attended the presentation conducted by President Laura Stigler, Board Member Jeff Steele, and Professional Member Sally Chapralis . .. I was engaged by their playful, respectful interaction and light-hearted banter. I was blown away by their business savvy. These people were not playing around, I can spot successful business people when I see them. Their advice was sound and not all rosy. That's how I knew they were authentic. Making a living independently is possible, but it doesn't just happen. It takes work, discipline and tenacity. As the room grew chilly, I pulled my jacket around me, Jeff Steele, quickly offered me his sport coat. I thought these are the single nicest people I have ever met. Of course, I joined on the spot! When something so good comes your way so serendipitously the answer is not 'no'. The Kibbitznest is a special place.

    Watch this space, I'll be scouting the city for other great Chicagoland spots in which to hole up, write or relax for awhile, and giving brief summaries in STET. Perhaps I'll even share some from my travels.

    Until next time,

    Signed,

    - Alicia Dale, Professional Member who signed up on the spot September 17, 2017

    (Members can comment by clicking on the vertical dots next to the headline.)

  • 01 May 2018 5:45 PM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    Moving right along here on our “IWOC Offers That???” tour...Hope you got a chance to explore our previous points of interest you never knew existed? The Meeting Podcasts, Contract template, our Mentor Program, the Rate Survey? Did you take some selfies? Good! Today, we’re going to do a deeper dive into IWOC’s Member Resources page. So grab your scuba gear and let’s jump right in... 

    “Cold Call Marketing” PDF: Geez, no wonder no one likes it down here. Just the thought of having to make cold calls leaves most of us...cold. But you know what? After you read Jim Leman’s lively presentation on this tried-and-true marketing technique, cold calling becomes a concept you can really warm up to. Love the excitement Jim conveys about how the mere act of cold calling “excites certain molecules in the atmosphere,” almost magically bringing in business from out of nowhere – sometimes from clients you haven’t heard from in years! Try it. It works. But read Jim’s take on it first.

    “There’s An App (and Website) for That” PDF: Members Betsy Storm and Jennifer Rueff really got their apps together for this one. All kinds of apps divided into categories to help the way you work and even your writing go smoother. Look! There’s a bunch to help you do Research! And over there! Writing-related Websites! Aww, look at that: A grouping that helps manage time. Wait! Here come apps about Billing! Blogging! and – ok, enough rubbernecking. But do check out this wildly informative document. It’s app-solutely fabulous.

    Hmmm... what else can we discover while we’re down here...Eureka!

    “Get and Keep Clients” PDF. Who doesn’t want to do that? Leave it to member Joen Kinnan to share her wealth of knowledge in a way that’s not only like having a conversation with a very wise friend, but will have you come away feeling almost as wise as she! Good, common sense advice that’s not always common. Like: “The minute you get an assignment, think of yourself as being part of the client’s team.” Many more gems where that came from. Dive into this PDF, and you’ve found a treasure.

    Better come up for air now. Maybe grab a bite (I’m in a seafood mood). Then feel free to return to Members Resources to search through the above in glorious detail.

    Not a member? Join! And have access to the wondrous world of IWOC!

    - Laura Stigler

    (Members can comment by clicking on the vertical dots next to the headline.)

  • 01 May 2018 5:17 PM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    IWOC members and IWOC friends alike convened on April 10, 2018, for the organization’s monthly meeting. This gathering served as a forum for one of IWOC’s semiannual roundtable events that focus on freelancing issues. At this event, Tom Lanning, Karen Schwartz and Julie Polanco served as group moderators.

    Tom’s roundtable addressed three issues: 1) invoicing and billing; 2) author-client agreements; and 3) marketing. Participants agreed that securing payment for rendered services can sometimes be problematic. To avoid conflicts, there should be something in writing (e.g., a contract or a letter of agreement) that clearly defines the scope of work and the cost. The writing should also specify deadlines for a project’s various stages and how any overages in work time will be handled. A sample letter of agreement is available to IWOC members on the organization’s website. Seasoned freelancers in this group suggested that, when negotiating and drafting an agreement, authors should inquire about a client’s budget for a proposed project. Freelancers should also consider research and conferencing time when estimating a project’s cost. 

    Tom’s group also discussed how freelancers can best market their services. Group members agreed that freelancers should have a portfolio and/or a website. Several members recommended Contently.net, a platform where authors can create their own websites. Other attendees recommended establishing profiles on LinkedIn, as many recruiters use it. 

    Across the room, Julie and Karen's group also addressed three issues: 1) finding work (specifically, how did you get your last job?); 2) author-client agreements; and 3) publishing/marketing books. Group members had found their most recent jobs through various means, including “cold calling” previous clients, using LinkedIn ProFinder, and through an IWOC “people connection.” This group’s discussion on author-client agreements emphasized the need for freelancers to always secure a deposit before beginning work.

    In terms of publishing books, several attendees mentioned Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), although KDP has several disadvantages. Another participant suggested using a MOBI file as a publishing tool. As far as book marketing, one member highlighted the importance of obtaining an ISBN. Another group member recommended promoting books in public libraries and local bookstores (Barbara’s, Women & Children First, and The Book Table were specifically mentioned).

    All of the participants in the roundtable discussions agreed that the event was extremely useful, and that they particularly enjoyed the face-to-face networking interaction.

    (Members can comment by clicking on the vertical dots next to the headline.)

    - Julienne Grant

  • 20 Apr 2018 7:59 AM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    Onstage Reporters Get Last Laugh Over IWOC Member Playing Mayor in Play

    Many independent writers got their start in the newspaper business, and I am no exception. In the days before journalism schools were the only path to “content creation,” promising writers who had entrepreneurial skills, the drive to get the story and a nose for news were the primary requirements needed to get hired. Chicago’s City News Bureau and even wire services such as the Associated Press didn't rely on degrees and grade point averages as much as they do today.

    I was hired for my first reporting job near the end of an era that was first heralded in 1928 in the play The Front Page, which takes place in the press room of the Criminal Courts Building in Chicago. On the eve of a murderer’s execution, a lead reporter decides to quit the newspaper business, marry a decent woman and start a respectable job at his father-in-law’s public relations company in New York. But these plans are thwarted when the biggest scoop of his career is thrust into his unwilling lap.

    I’ve always loved the play for its cynical yet comic portrait of how reporters become hardened to human agony and how bottomless the corruption of politicians can be. So when Saint Sebastian Players announced auditions for a production of the play (opens April 27 at St. Bonaventure in Chicago), I figured that with my on-the-job experience, I would be a shoe-in to play one of the many reporters.

    So imagine my surprise when I was cast on the receiving end of the free press as the Mayor of Chicago, who dominated the pinnacle of political corruption. As a result, I have put to good use my experience observing this species of political animal in its natural habitat—City Hall.

    The reportorial milieu portrayed in The Front Page is not too exaggerated from reality. Everyone who has worked in a newsroom has experienced the rush of excitement that pulses through it when a big story breaks. Reporters race out the door or breathlessly dial phones to get sources’ quotes, the editors scramble to remake the front page, and in the old days, the composing room stops everything until the next big scoop is set on the linotype machines. 

    At the time of The Front Page, tearing out a page layout wasn’t just a matter of pushing a few buttons on a keyboard—it actually meant ripping out lead type that had been blocked into a layout with hammers, melting it down and literally recasting the story.

    I know about this because I experienced several scoops similar to the one in The Front Page during my early newspaper career. When I was a daily newspaper reporter in Kankakee, Illinois, one scoop I uncovered (with the assistance of an invaluable informant) occurred on a sleepy Saturday -- traditionally a slow day spent preparing the Sunday edition. I had visited the county jail to get the latest crime reports off the “blotter,” a binder with typed or handwritten police reports in it.

    Such a visit was a daily routine for the reporter assigned to it, which on this day, was me. It seemed nothing much had happened in the county on Friday night—or so the county sheriff wanted me to believe—until I learned a few hours later about a scandalous event. As the newsroom was starting to wrap up the Sunday edition, a woman telephoned me from a distant area of the county.

    “I’m just calling to see how the state Senator is doing,” she said.

    “What do you mean?” I inquired.

    “I wanted to see if he was injured in the car accident last night,” she explained.

    “What accident?” I demanded. She told me that the state Senator had been in a car crash the night before. Didn’t we have all the information on it?

    Within five minutes, the sheriff—who didn’t work Saturdays—was on the phone. I reminded him of what he already knew and had ignored by law: all police records are public documents, and the newspaper had a right to see all of them. He told me to come back to the jail, where the report would be available. I told the photo department, and a photographer immediately was dispatched, tearing off in his car to the police auto pound before the managers there disposed of the Senator’s car, which was badly damaged. We tore out the front page and ran the photo there with my article.

    As it turned out, the Senator had been driving late Friday night, crashed his car and broke his arm. For the next several days, we heard reports that the Senator had been introduced in various drinking establishments that night and did not appear to be as sober as a judge. In the days before social media and ubiquitous cell phones, covering up such an embarrassing accident could be attempted. Without solid evidence, we could not be sure, but it appeared that the Senator’s driving while intoxicated was being covered up by the county sheriff. Sure enough, charges were never brought against the Senator by the county’s prosecuting attorney.

    This is just one of the many examples of official chicanery, special treatment and cronyism among elected officials that reporters still see every day. In The Front Page, the officials are portrayed as buffoons, the comic relief. Although this might have been wish fulfillment on the part of former reporters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, who wrote the play, it makes for a highly entertaining comedy of mayhem and laughter.

    The Saint Sebastian Players present The Front Page April 27 to May 20 in the basement of St. Bonaventure Church, 1625 W. Diversey (enter on Marshfield just west of Ashland) in Chicago, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. For more information, visit saintsebastianplayers.org or call 773-404-7922.

    (Members can comment by clicking on the vertical dots next to the headline.)

    - Russ Gager

    Russ Gager worked as a daily newspaper reporter in Watseka and Kankakee, Illinois—where he had a few scoops of his own—along with the Suburbanite Economist, the South End Reporter and the Blue Island Sun Standard.

  • 06 Apr 2018 1:53 PM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    Alright everybody, back on the bus! We’re about to embark on the second leg of our “IWOC Offers That???” tour, the first having been launched last month (see earlier post), where we discovered 1) a treasure trove of podcasts and handouts from meetings past, and 2) a “Letter of Agreement” template that can sure come in handy, especially when negotiating with a first-time client. Chomping at the bit to find out what else IWOC offers that may have escaped your notice? Let’s roll.

    First stop: The Rate Survey. Let’s admit it. Finding out what other writers charge is one of our guilty pleasures. Aren’t you dying to know, say, what journalists are paid for writing a magazine article? What is the going rate for writing a brochure, or radio spot? And white papers: how much does one get for writing those? Our juicy Rate Survey has all the answers, gleaned from IWOC member participants. Why would anyone want to know such stats, other than unabashed curiosity? For one thing, they provide you with a reference point when you’re trying to determine what you should charge for a particular project. You don’t want to price yourself out of the market. Then again, you want to be paid what you’re worth. IWOC’s Rate Survey is invaluable in helping you confidently establish your own rates.

    Next stop: Our “Find a Mentor” Program. Wait, what? There’s a Mentor Program? When did this happen? Oh, about a year ago, when we finally got the hint after being asked at every turn, “Does IWOC provide mentoring?” I can now answer not only with a resounding “Yes!”, but that we currently have 17 members representing writing disciplines from across the board, who are eager to share their expertise and knowledge. And the beauty of it is, mentoring works both ways: Whether you get a charge out of taking someone under your wing and imparting your hard-fought wisdom – or if you wish to be mentored and have some of that wisdom imparted to you, our Mentoring Program is a win-win. For everyone. 

    Gonna let you off the bus right here so you can nose around the sites on your own – all located under the “For Members” tab. If you haven’t joined IWOC yet, do it! And start getting access to the above benefits and then some!

    See you next time...when I point out even more “IWOC Offers That???” attractions.

    Happy exploring!

    (Members can comment by clicking on the vertical dots next to the headline.)

    - Laura Stigler

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