Log in

Independent Writers
of Chicago

Log in

Stet | April 2107

01 Apr 2017 9:01 AM | Anonymous
Stet Newsletter
April 2017

Volume 36 | Number 4

Editor's Note

Stet Editor Cynthia TomusiakCynthia Tomusiak

Spring is here and with it comes renewal. The IWOC website underwent a renewal last month and this month, the newsletter Stet was updated. Many thanks to our webmaster, Roger, for all of his hard work. For more information, see the President's Column. Our Madame President did a bang-up job of explaining the updates and why they are important to YOU!

In addition to our usual features:

  • Editor's Note
  • Meeting Preview
  • Meeting Recap
  • President's Column
We have a book review and an article written by one of our members.

We are still looking for more member contibutions and input. Write a letter to the editor, let us know about you in the member profile (contact the editor for the latest list of questions) or submit an article. All the submission details are below.

For now, Happy Spring! Enjoy your newsletter!

If you would like to contribute an article to Stet or be featured in an upcoming IWOC member profile, contact me and plan to submit before the monthly deadline of the 15th. Thank you.

- Cynthia Tomusiak

April Meeting Preview

The ABC's of PR: Independent Writers of Chicago (IWOC) Discuss Public Relations

A company wants to generate some buzz about its newest product. A think tank would like people to know the findings of its latest study. A nonprofit is excited about winning a grant for a new community project. A celebrity just inked a deal to develop a fashion line. Newsworthy events all, but without a public relations professional’s guidance, the public might never know about them.

Join us on April 11th as IWOC member and public relations specialist Betsy Storm leads a panel of speakers to provide an inside look at the ABCs of PR. Storm, principal of Top Drawer Communications, has been in the communications biz for over 20 years, and is an award-winning PR pro with expertise in healthcare, nonprofits, small business and business-to-business.

Public relations is (rather formally) defined as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” But when it comes down to simple language, PR is all about relationship building, engagement, and persuasion— best achieved via a solid journalistic approach. Essentially, PR is a powerful way for companies, organizations or individuals to enhance their reputations. It usually involves the ability of a PR pro to communicate intelligently and creatively with members of the media (from CNN to a neighborhood blogger) to present one’s clients in the most favorable way possible.

Storm and her panel will discuss how to break into PR, how to pitch to clients, how to develop strong media relationships, and much more. As Bill Gates famously said, “If I were down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations.”

As Bill Gates famously said, “If I were down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations.”

The IWOC meeting will take place Tuesday, April 11th in Room 4F (4th fl.) at the Gratz Center, 126 E. Chestnut St. / 115 E. Delaware, Chicago, just west of Michigan Ave., adjacent to Fourth Presbyterian Church. Discounted parking (after 5 pm, with validation) is located at the 900 N. Michigan Ave. garage. Networking at 5 p.m. Main program, 6 p.m. IWOC members admitted free and do not need to register. Nonmembers, $15. ($10 if pre-registered at Following the meeting, attendees are invited to a nearby restaurant for a buy-your-own dinner to further discuss writing-related topics or to continue networking.  For more information, call 800-804-IWOC (800-804-4962) or visit

IWOC is a nonprofit professional association of freelance writers living in the Chicago metropolitan area whose clients range from local to global. Together, IWOC members represent a broad spectrum of writing talents, consultation services, and specialties serving large corporations, small businesses, and not-for-profit organizations.

- Sally Chapralis

Back to top...

March Meeting Recap

Abby Saul’s Advice on Queries

Abby Saul of the Lark Group is a literary agent who helps writers take a finished book to market. At IWOC’s March meeting she presented guidelines for writing query letters to agents and publishing companies. As in most cases where writers reach out to people who publish, more success comes to those who meet the expectations of the initial contact.

First realize that agents sell more books than authors. Publishing houses have more confidence in the professionals who have seen many, many book ideas. (Saul receives about two hundred queries a week.)

What do agents do for authors?

Agencies that sell literary fiction rarely respond to a vampire fiction query and vice versa.

“An agent sells your book and becomes your editorial partner, brand manager and business partner,” Saul said. “They also sell subsidiary rights including film rights, audio books and foreign rights.”

Secondly, writers need to research literary agencies to make sure they are pitching the kind of book an agency routinely handles. Agencies that sell literary fiction rarely respond to a vampire fiction query and vice versa.

If you believe your book is destined for a small press, you may find that agents advise you to approach the publisher yourself. Agents usually work with large publishing companies.

Much of Saul’s advice can also help writers who send queries to magazines. She offered five important suggestions for writing a query agents and publishers will see as professional.

  • Greeting. Address your letter to a specific person. Avoid “Dear Agent” and especially “Dear Sirs” because your query may go to a woman. If you have a personal connection—“I heard you speak at IWOC last year”—lead with the connection.
  • Introduction. Introduce your book succinctly with three critical facts: title, genre and word count; and state which readers might like it. For example: “In this 80,000 word classic mystery, Dead in Color, an art critic arrives at a painters’ retreat believing he will receive a life-time achievement award. This cozy mystery will appeal to fans of amateur sleuth fiction by authors like Susan Wittig Albert and Elizabeth Peters.” (Note: Choose someone other than Agatha Christie. If your examples are the most well-known people, you reveal a lack of depth in the field.)
  • Synopsis. In 100 to 200 words, introduce the main character and hint at the plot. Your style and tone in the synopsis should match the book you are pitching. Refrain from giving away too much, especially the ending. Never suggest something that does not actually appear in your book.
  • Biography. Provide your book-writing bio. Fiction writers should tell their background in fiction and mention memberships in writing groups. If your query is about a first novel, just say it. A nonfiction writer needs a more complete history of publications and information that tells the agent why he or she is the best person to write the book.
  • Closing. Close with Sincerely, Your Name. Contact information can follow the closing.

IWOC Members:
Click here to access the meeting podcast!

When you have written a good query, have other writers look at it before you send it out. You can submit to multiple agents or markets at the same time, but only pitch one project at a time. Do not pitch a potential series. This can make agents doubt the strength of the book you want to publish now.

You can submit to multiple agents or markets at the same time, but only pitch one project at a time.

Once your queries have flown through the mail, avoid harassing the recipients. If you have heard nothing after six months, check to make sure they received it. Rejection is a big part of the process, so take heart. If your query is rejected fifty times, retool your query letter. (Yes, fifty. It’s a mean world out there, people.)

- Korey Willoughby

Back to top...

President's Column

What a Friendly Site!

Laura Stigler

It’s been said – in fact, we often say it ourselves – that IWOC is one of the friendliest organizations you’ll ever hope to find. Friendly people. Friendly environment. Hey, some of our best friends are IWOC-ers! So it begs the question: Why has IWOC’s website been rather unfriendly when viewed on your mobile, for instance. Or tablet?

Sure if you’ve been eyeing it only on your desk or laptop, there was no problem. Had all the info you needed, was easy to navigate. Life was good. But on other devices? Fuggetaboudit! All the content was ridiculously small. To click on any link or menu item, you had to have fingers like knitting needles. To read the content, you’d have to zoom in, causing the text to spill over, making it necessary to scroll to read just one line! And let’s not even get into registering for an event, reading the calendar – in short, the web design wasn’t “responsive.” Not a good thing. Especially for a group as professional as ours.

It’s everything our former site was, only eons better.

What to do? Consult our webmaster, Roger Rueff, of course! With some excellent suggestions from the Board and working his own digital wizardry, Roger came up with what will gloriously open before your eyes when you visit It’s everything our former site was, only eons better. Here’s why:

  • Looks great on whatever device you’re using – mobile, notebook or desktop PC. The content conforms. The design is clean, contemporary.
  • The text, menu and links on all devices appear in normal size. You can read and click on them easily. Even if you have sausages for fingers.
  • Get a load of this new goody: Any time you click on the Home page, a different Featured Writer will pop up, along with their photo and links to their IWOC profile, website and social media profiles. Everyone gets their moment in the sun. Continuously.
  • The menu is now located across the top of the page, rather than off to the side, giving more real estate to content and photos.
  • All the Stet newsletters now load up quickly and are mobile / tablet compatible.
  • You’ll also love how iconic Chicago cityscapes and landmarks make their appearance in the Home page slideshow. Considering “Chicago” is part of our name, that makes us particularly proud.

A friendly word of advice

The IWOC website is a powerful promotional tool. For IWOC, yes. But especially for you. To that end, make sure your photo is uploaded on your profile. (Otherwise a generic silhouette appears, as if you’re in some witness protection program.) Also, add your website link to your profile, as well as links to your social media profiles (LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.). Importantly, all of these will appear on the rotating Featured Writer section when you’re the one being featured. The better to engage potential clients, my friend!

So enjoy the new site. And feel free to give us feedback. After all, that’s what friends are for!

- Laura Stigler

Back to top...

Book Review

Word by Word

Richard Eastline

Word by Word / Kory Stamper / 296 pp. (incl. bibliography, notes, and index) plus a preface / Pantheon Books ,2017 / $26.95 list (hard cover) / ISBN 9781101870945 / Also available as a Kindle ebook.

Merriam Webster is a name more familiar to me than any female I’ve ever known. But with this one, I’ve enjoyed the longest and most reliable relationship one could hope for. Moreover, this Merriam is probably a good friend to just about every writer and crossword fanatic who has lived during the past 170+ years. 

Kory Stamper is not nearly as well known to us but she may be one of Merriam’s best buddies in her role as lexicographer at the home of America’s pre-eminent publisher of dictionaries. (Lexicographer: a writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge per description in 1755.) Few persons are likely to ever have as much contact with words as Ms. Stamper, so her insights and revelations provide us with a remarkable---and very readable---behind-the-scenes tour of what goes on at Merriam-Webster, a New England-based company. It was established in 1844 by the brothers Merriam after acquiring the rights to publish and update Noah Webster’s book of word definitions.

Ms. Stamper not only serves an important role at the company but also publishes her own blog, Harmless Drudgery, whose very existence suggests that a talk session with her will stretch the bounds of a conventional interview. This new book provides that same purpose. Its subtitle, The Secret Life of Dictionaries, is a relatively tame description of its contents: fifteen chapters brimming with expositions, arguments, and opinions. Definition is the subject and it is explored via aspects of grammar, punctuation, origin—sometimes to elaborate length. Chapter subjects include “Wrong Words,” “Bad Words,” and “Small Words” plus elements like authority and disputes.

Chapter subjects include “Wrong Words,” “Bad Words,” and “Small Words” plus elements like authority and disputes.

The job of the lexicographer, she firmly states, is to tell the truth about how language is used—double negatives and “ain’t” are part of it, like it or not. For an indication of the depth of research the author offers in the study of certain troublesome words, check out her fourteen-page essay on “it’s” or sample her gnashing-of-the-teeth response to those who dismiss “irregardless” as a word strictly based on so-called rules. Every chapter holds incidental surprises that nonetheless adhere to Ms. Stamper’s persuasive doctrine. The thoroughness of her approach is apparent when you discover that her notes section, bibliography, and index add up to thirty-two pages. 

The author has been with Merriam-Webster (now a division of Encyclopaedia Brittannica) twenty-five years, during which time she estimates she has been involved in establishing definitions for hundreds of thousands of words. To some, that kind of work would seem to border on science. In a philosophical statement in the final chapter, Ms. Stamper sees it as being a creative process as much as a scientific one and, likewise, more of a craft than an art.  In today’s world, though, dictionaries face change as online searches replace printed page listings. She acknowledges both the cost and convenience factors that will influence the future methodology of defining words. Yet, for those who truly identify themselves as lexicographers, “we don’t do the work for the money or prestige, we do it because English deserves careful attention and care.”  It certainly gets its due in the pages of “Word by Word.” 

- Richard Eastline

Back to top...

IWOC Member Article

Two types of freelance marcom writing: What’s the difference?

Diana Schneidman

Establishing an effective working relationship with corporate clients and pricing our work right make much more sense when we recognize that we provide two types of writing. One type is straight-forward and rather easy; the second type is much more demanding.

If we can’t distinguish between these two types of marcom writing, we are likely to get indignant about certain clients who seem to be overly difficult and demanding. We may also fail to recognize which projects should pay better and price our work accordingly.

The first type of marcom writing is what we commonly think of as “content.” This includes most blog posts, podcasts, and such that compile general knowledge in such areas as management, leadership, change and marketing.

How to write general content

We all know that plagiarism is when you steal from one, research is when you steal from many. So let’s steal from many. (Perfectly legit.)

We all know that plagiarism is when you steal from one, research is when you steal from many.

Print off lots of content found through Google, yellow highlight some good stuff, and mix it up till we meet word count. Fix grammar, spelling, punctuation. Then run it through Copyscape to assure originality.

  • These pieces average about 500 words. They may start with an overused quotation from Albert Einstein or Henry Ford. State the concept under discussion and define the term. Fluff it up a bit. Yada, yada, yada. Zappos and Southwest Airlines. Blah, blah, blah, Steve Jobs and Nordstrom’s. Call to action: Just do it.

I write this content too. It’s easy to write. Clients are happy and never suggest major changes. It doesn’t pay all that much, but then, why should it?

Then there’s the second type: copy that develops and supports the client’s corporate identity, branding, positioning, or whatever term they have chosen. This category obviously includes taglines, website homepages, and annual reports. However, it pulls in so much more: white papers, extended case studies, social media, etc. This stuff is challenging to write well, not simply because it requires knowledge and effort, but because it represents the client’s brand.

Why it’s hard to write identity content that pleases the client

Clients know their brand (or maybe not . . . or maybe there is a lack of consensus within their organization), but often they don’t know what they don’t like until they see it.

One draft is hardly ever enough. And if it is enough, it’s because the client communicates their branding to us so effectively from the start, not because we are so brilliant.

This means that identity content must meet a very high bar. The project timeline and pay schedule must support the back and forth this copy requires.

The price is high because getting the messaging right is such hard work. Yes, this can cause sticker shock on the part of the client, but more important to us, we ourselves can experience sticker shock if we really work out a price that is fair to us.

What do you think? Am I on to something? Or am I making excuses? Please share your ideas on my LinkedIn article.

Diana Schneidman is an IWOC member and the author of Real Skills, Real Income: A Proven Marketing System to Land Well-Paid Freelance and Consulting Work in 30 Days or Less, available on Amazon.

- Diana Schneidman

Back to top...

IWOC's New Members

Please welcome IWOC's newest member!

Patricia Stratton - Senior Member 

- Pam Colovos

Back to top...

IWOC Board of Directors

Laura Stigler (President), Jeff Steele (Vice-president), Claire Nicolay (Secretary), Brent Brotine (Treasurer), David Steinkraus (Parliamentarian), George Becht, Tom Lanning, Diana Schneidman, Cynthia Tomusiak

Copyright 2011–2024, Independent Writers of Chicago
332 S. Michigan Avenue, #121–W686
Chicago, IL 60604-4434

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software