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Stet Newsletter

The IWOC newsletter, Stet, features news and helpful information for IWOC members and the entire freelance-writing community. Typical issues include previews of upcoming meetings and events, recaps of recent meetings and events, book and Web-service/software reviews, and tips not only for writing but for developing and sustaining business as an independent writer. And each issue features words of wisdom from our president.

Stet is published 11 or 12 times per year (we sometimes skip December to focus on enjoying the holidays). And our editors invite contributions from all interested parties both inside and outside of IWOC. Our only criteria are writing quality and the timeliness and usefulness of the information to independent writers.

For information regarding submissions, contact the Stet editor. And to view past issues of Stet (from 2002 to 2015), please visit our Stet Archive.

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  • 30 Jan 2016 1:22 PM | Roger Rueff (Administrator)
    Stet Newsletter
    February 2016

    Volume 35 | Number 2

    Editor's Note

    Stet Editor Cynthia TomusiakCynthia Tomusiak

    Getting to know you!

    Some notes on networking. IWOC meetings give members and non-members a chance to get together, catch up and interact. It is networking.

    Networking can occur during social events, meetings, and on social media. Networking can be fun, good for your business and good for you. Networking allows us to learn more about others, how we can help them and how they can help us. It can simply be about getting out and making friends. IWOC is a great group of friendly, caring and outgoing people, so it is easy to enjoy a meeting and meeting other IWOC and sometimes non-IWOC members.

    Networking is valuable in so many ways—it brings opportunities both for business and a chance to help others.

    Networking can be fun and good for your business and for you.

    It can lead to more connections and an increased profile. It can lead to confidence and bring positive influences in your life (when you surround yourself with positive, motivated, like-minded people you will be more positive and motivated yourself). I would like to create a section in the newsletter for an IWOC member profile of the month. I think we can get to know each other a little better through the newsletter. I would like to see members send in information about themselves and a photo.

    I would like to create an IWOC member profile section for Stet.

    There are many members that are not able to come to all of the meetings and even those that do, we could learn more about you or get a reminder of who you are and what you do. Since you are writing your own submission—it is an easy byline in Stet! I hope everyone likes the idea and starts sending in submissions.

    As a reminder, all submissions are due on the 15th of the month prior to publication on the first of the next month. So March submissions are due February 15th. Thanks for your assistance and looking forward to getting to know you better.

    - Cynthia Tomusiak

    February Meeting Preview

    Freelance Writing for Today’s Tough Media Markets

    Image courtesy Stuart Miles at

    Today, freelancing for media markets as an independent writer can be a rough-and-tumble experience—even for those with an iron will to succeed despite overwhelming odds and tough competition.

    That should be no surprise for those based in Chicago. Around the world, the image of Chicago usually reflects a tough, gritty town ready to edge out, or elbow, the competition.

    In the city’s breaking-news pages, on TV or radio, in print magazines, online, and in news-oriented cinema, the Chicago scene is riddled with tough, sweating strivers, hell-bent on winning out against any competition. Think of: John Dillinger with a Thompson machine gun; the St. Valentine’s Day massacre in the roaring 20s; or someone of lesser-importance today, squeezing the trigger rapidly on a 9-millimeter Glock.

    Freelancing for media markets can be a rough-and-tumble experience.

    It may also include determined IWOC writers, who insist on “shooting” for the media markets. So if you see yourself becoming the new “freelance gunslinger” in town, how can you further condition yourself and toughen up for greater freelance-media success? Indeed, if you “feel lucky,” then why not take a shot at gaining some invaluable insights on freelancing for print media, online media opportunities, and related media options.

    Come to IWOC’s next meeting on Feb. 9 to hear a presentation by experienced Chicago-based freelance writer and photojournalist Peter Bella, who will offer his first-hand advice based on years of street-wise savvy.

    Bella is the Unit Chair of Working Journalists, a freelancer’s union. He also writes blogs about the city and is also working on authoring his first cook book.

    Prior to launching a freelance writing career, Bella served as a police officer.

    Prior to launching a freelance-writing career, Bella gained much of his street-wise expertise in a different arena, as a Chicago police officer assigned to take professional-style photos of what had occurred at violent crime scenes.

    To be sure, as some news reporters who have covered a night-side Chicago police beat are aware, such photos might include some rough, gory photographs. That has not effected his current position. Retired from police work, Bella says he has a passion for cooking and food—and some apparently even consider him to be the “Cooking Cop.”

    But also, Bella is the Unit Chair of Working Journalists and its part-time organizer/coordinator. This freelancers’ group, run by the Chicago News Guild, is aimed at strengthening freelance-based media professionals in the Chicago area, and is open to both union and non-union colleagues. Such “working journalists” include freelance writers, those who blog, those who do photography or videography/visual work, those who conduct public relations and other professionals focusing on other related media.

    At the upcoming February IWOC program, Bella will offer his insights on how freelancers can compete more effectively for media assignments, today’s media-writing opportunities, and what he sees as the biggest current challenges for independent writers. He will also discuss what Working Journalists does to help freelancers.

    So, if you see yourself wanting to become the new freelance-media gunslinger in town, be there!

    - Tom Lanning

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    January Meeting Recap

    Navigating the New World of Book Publishing

    Jim Kepler

    Once there were the Big 12 book publishers. Now there are only five, yet as traditional publishing has consolidated, other options have appeared or expanded. IWOC’s first meeting of 2016 was devoted to helping authors navigate this new and confusing publishing landscape.

    The audience filled every seat at our Gratz Center meeting room on a frigid January night to hear two expert speakers. Jim Kepler is a longtime IWOC member who runs the production house Adams Press. Kim Bookless is a publishing consultant and book editor who is president of Chicago Women in Publishing.

    The days of traditional book publishing are gone.

    Traditionally, Kepler said, authors submitted a manuscript through an agent to a major publishing house, and if it was accepted there were book tours and royalties, and perhaps an advance. Those days are gone. Agents are picky, budgets have been slashed, advances are so low no one can live on them while writing, and royalties for a popular book—more than 10,000 copies—will be 15 percent. The publisher’s 85 percent pays for its services—editing, coaching, marketing, cover design, production design, and printing—and of course increasing profits.

    Consider instead a small publisher, Kepler said, because you can approach these firms by yourself, and editors answer their own phones.

    He had a few tips:

    • Find a book like yours and make it part of your pitch. It gives the editor a reference point when you say you’re writing a similar book with a different angle.
    • Even if your book isn’t finished, write the blurb now, and write it as a sales piece. It will change as production continues, but initially it will focus your theme and show the hook that will grab readers.
    • As part of your proposal, mention what you will write next. Editors are always interested in what else they may be able to sell.
    • Keep artwork to a minimum, especially color, because it pushes up costs.
    • Find someone to write a foreword. This may be a person you interviewed while researching. A foreword is a great marketing tool because it shows someone thought well of your book.
    • Identify your audience specifically, not just engineers but engineers of a particular industry.
    Kim Bookless

    In self-publishing, Bookless said, the author has a much greater profit but also assumes the financial risk. And producing a book the right way can be expensive. One theme ran through her talk: Don’t do it yourself. Unless you’re an experienced book cover designer, an experienced developmental editor, an experienced copy editor, and experienced in html formatting for e-books, you need to hire professionals. Skimp on these costs, and your book will look amateurish.

    Her tips were:

    • Self-published authors must be willing to promote, and although many writers are more comfortable with their computers, it is difficult to succeed in self-publishing if you aren’t willing to do promotions.
    • Accept the fact that some people will not like your book. The best book in the world will be trashed by some reviewer on Amazon.
    • Begin marketing well in advance of publication. You can blog about your upcoming book, and you set up a website even if it announces nothing more than a title and projected publication date.

    Using a developmental editor is crucial.

    A developmental editor is crucial. This person will review your manuscript, tell you where it is weak, where it is strong, and how it can be improved. Better than going to a developmental editor with a finished manuscript is working with an editor from the beginning of your project because it will save your time and effort.

    IWOC Members:
    Click here to access the meeting podcast!

    Publishing your own book means thinking like an entrepreneur, Bookless said. If you can’t afford to pay for a good job this year, wait until next year when you have enough money. Don’t dip into your children’s college fund or a 401(k) because making a profit from books is difficult. Look at a book project like a trip to Las Vegas: You establish a gambling fund and hope you will end with more than you started with, but you won’t be financially harmed if luck ignores you.

    - David Steinkraus

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    President's Column

    2015’s Top Word Opens Their Ear

    David Steinkraus

    You may not know of the American Dialect Society, which is devoted to the study of the English language in North America, but every year it holds, what it asserts is, the longest-running vote to select a word of the year. For 2015, the top word is “they” used as a singular pronoun, especially to indicate people who reject the standard sex-dependent designations of “he” or “she.”

    It’s a notable choice because it illustrates how limited our memories are and how silly are the criticisms of people who write those cantankerous letters to the editor lamenting the decay of language standards. Unfortunately for the guardians of word purityy, this use of “they” stretches back for centuries, says the society’s explanation of its choice. Chaucer, Jane Austen, and Shakespeare all contain variations of this usage.

    The use of "they" as a singular pronoun stretches back for hundreds of years.

    Perhaps you notice a similar style in modern British idiom. Listen to a BBC broadcast and you will hear a sentence like this: “Petroleum producer BP today announced they will cease exploration in the Arctic….” The plural pronoun turns the corporation into a collective in contrast to the singular “it” common on this side of the Atlantic. Look at the worldviews encapsulated in these choices. You can hypothesize that our aversion to using the plural “they” for a collective entity reflects or reinforces a reluctance to assign blame. A collective is automatically accountable because we implicitly understand the corporate “they” refers to real people who made poor choices and must bear the consequences.

    In an "it" corporation, people are components instead of human beings.

    In an “it” corporation people are components—detached, fungible parts just following orders, no one doing anything meaningful—instead of human beings with intelligence, freewill, and moral responsibility. This choice ferments passive constructions that diffuse responsibility in clouds of abstraction: Mistakes were made.

    The Washington Post has accepted this new or old use of “they,” but the Associated Press has not. Its—I should say “their”—current stylebook says “their” is a plural possessive and must agree in number with the antecedent.

    The problem is the lack of a generic third-person pronoun in American English.

    In other words, “Everyone raised their hands” is bad, bad, bad. And the Chicago Manual of Style (section 5.46 in the current 3-pound edition) declares that while common in casual usage, the use of “they” as a singular pronoun is simply not done. Of course, the manual admits, the problem is the lack of a generic third-person pronoun in American English, yet its answer to this insufficiency is section 5.225 that lists nine possible methods for writing around the problem. They are nine solutions in search of a problem because there isn’t one if the writer opens their mind a crack.

    The dialect society’s 2015 list includes other words, among them the word most likely to succeed in becoming part of the language, the one least likely to succeed, and best emoji. My favorite was the most creative word: “ammosexual,” meaning a person who fetishizes firearms.

    The vote is just for fun, says the society. It (or they) are not trying to impose its (or s/his, or their) imprimatur on the language, and that’s good because no one can, not even the Chicago Manual.

    The last quality we need in our language is rigidity.

    The last quality we need in our language is rigidity because it nurtures an accompanying rigidity of thought, which brings restriction of freedom. Orwell understood that. In “1984” his fictional dictatorship exerted social control and restricted thought by trying to remove words from the public vocabulary.

    Fortunately, and in defiance of attempts at control or blandness, language refuses to stop evolving, which is to say the public, they, are always creating something new, or at least finding something old to supplant what doesn’t work. And for writers that is an encouraging thought.

    - David Steinkraus

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  • 30 Dec 2015 5:30 AM | Roger Rueff (Administrator)
    Stet Newsletter
    January 2016

    Volume 35 | Number 1

    Editor's Note

    Stet Editor Cynthia TomusiakCynthia Tomusiak

    We have a new format for the newsletter! The board and I are very excited to present a newsletter that will be available in multiple formats for your viewing and reading pleasure—online, mobile, email. Wherever you are and whatever device you are using to read the newsletter—you will be able to do so.

    The new Stet format is completely searchable on the website.

    The new version of the newsletter will be searchable by topics, authors, subjects, and keywords. So when you contribute an article, it can be found. If you want to go back to it or the newsletter, you can. All newsletters will continue to be archived on the IWOC website.

    The deadline for submission of articles, columns or features is the 15th of month prior to publication. We will publish the newsletter on the first of the month. This publication date should give readers enough time to see it before the monthly meeting. It should also give writers enough time for submission.

    If you want to see something in Stet, just let us know.

    We plan to keep all of these previous features: the monthly meeting recap, the president’s column, information for the next meeting. If there are other items you would like to see in the newsletter, please let us know.

    We also plan to publish every month of the year... starting in 2016 of course. I think the previous meeting recaps and the announcement of the speaker or events for the next meeting are an important part the information the newsletter offers. I want to make that available to you every month of the year. Of course, the board will be opening up both the Stet editor and membership manager positions for people who want to fill them long-term so watch for the announcement in early spring. (For more information, please see the President’s Column, below.) But I am looking forward to the next few months as the editor of Stet.

    - Cynthia Tomusiak

    January Meeting Preview

    How to Write, Publish, and Market Your Book!

    Image courtesy adamr at

    So you want to write a book?! On January 12th, two experienced book-publishing experts will discuss the specific steps that new (or old) authors must take to succeed. They will be offering a “one-two-three” type approach with practical advice that works! They will cover the entire process, beginning with the initial creative idea for your book and working all the way to its eventual sale. In today’s competitive marketplace, the experience and advice that will be offered will be priceless.

    In today's marketplace, the advice of experienced professionals is priceless.

    Based on their real-world publishing experience, two seasoned and professional IWOC veterans—James Kepler and Kim Bookless—will address the two major publishing strategies to consider today, including traditional royalty publishing and self-publishing. In their co-presentation, Kepler will discuss the pros and cons of traditional royalty publishing, while Bookless will delve into the advantages and weakness of self-publishing. There also will be an interactive Q&A session, discussing the respective benefits and challenges of each strategy.

    Kim Bookless

    Kim Bookless is a publishing consultant and editor. She helps authors bring their books to life by guiding them through the self-publishing process, serving as their advisor, advocate, and project manager. She is President of Chicago Women in Publishing (CWIP) and Founder of the Chicago Self-Publishing Group. Connect with Kim at or

    Jim Kepler

    Jim Kepler is the principal of Adams Press. The company's current web site says: "For more than half a century Adams Press has helped authors self-publish their books. Founded in 1942, Adams Press produces professionally printed books at a reasonable cost for authors, poets, educators, professionals, clergy, and others who choose to publish their own work." The author of several books himself, Kepler has also been a professional writer for many years, based in the Chicago area. He has been active in various writers' organizations, including IWOC, where he has served in several key capacities including as that organization's President.

    - Tom Lanning

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    November Meeting Recap

    Videographer Tom McCosky Shares Insights

    Tom McCosky

    Stewart Truelsen introduced our November speaker stating that we should all think about becoming writer-producers. In his experience, he has found that it usually involves more travel and more pay. The tools we need, we already have—the ability to interview and to tell stories. Then, hire someone like Tom McCosky (the speaker) to shoot the video.

    Tom has shot videos on just about everything, from farms to Broadway plays. His work has taken him around the world to interview celebrities and CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies. Tom has seen many changes in video production over the years, but understanding the client’s needs, expectations and budget have not changed! You have to spend some time with the client to understand what they want from the production. They may start with a script idea, get or have a written script and have the video shot and then edited.

    Tom has shot videos on just about everything, from farms to Broadway plays.

    More often than not, Tom has found that the clients have him shoot video based on an idea and then have the script written to fit the idea and the captured images. This may lead to “happy accidents” of have shots that you might not have gotten sticking to a pre-written script but overall Tom finds this method can cause consistency problems with the video.

    Tom usually comes in after pre-production has been done. He goes on location and may hire extra crew but brings his equipment. The minimum crew needed to shoot a video is a producer, cameraman (Tom) and sound person. A lighting person would be nice as well.

    If he does not have the right or enough equipment, he will rent it. In 2015, he used 32 different cameras ranging from highly professional all the way down to a windows phone. In fact, the images do not have to be top quality.

    Understanding the client’s needs, expectations, and budget is paramount.

    Sometimes a client wants a video that looks homemade. However, sound quality is key. No matter the picture quality, the sound has to be excellent. The equipment helps link the visuals with the sound. There is a time code generated by camera and the audio. It gives you the hour/minute/second and a frame number. You can link multiple cameras and to one code for easy of post production work including editing.

    When asked what costs and fees are, he responded that it really depends on the project and size of the crew. He usually gets paid for the day and it is a 10-hour day. The day rates can range from $500–$10,000/day for the crew and equipment.

    IWOC Members:
    Click here to access the meeting podcast!

    His work can be found in many places, multi channel and outlet, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, YouTube, Vimeo and web-site pages. Video tends to work across all types of media so there are not many changes needed for different outlets.

    If you want to do it yourself, he said there are many cameras available that are both good and reasonably priced. He gave some tips on how to to shoot your own video: Do not shoot into a window or against a white wall. Look for a neutral color, gray is best. Get the camera as close as possible to the subject without distortion. Get good clean audio (if you cannot hear what they are saying it does not matter what they look like). Do not shoot outdoors (if possible) with live audio–you cannot control sound and other things such as sirens, birds or honking horns. The subject or interviewee can look directly at the camera or, if it is more of a “60 minutes” style, not.

    The podcast of Tom's presentation is available to IWOC members on this website. His Web presence is here: And he can be reached via email at

    - Cynthia Tomusiak

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    President's Column

    The New-and-Improved Stet Format

    David Steinkraus

    As you know, Joen Kinnan recently decided to resign as Stet’s editor and membership manager, and to leave IWOC. She gave our organization many years of outstanding service in a variety of jobs, and we know you will join us in thanking her for all that hard work.

    After a discussion, the Board of Directors appointed Cynthia Tomusiak as interim editor of Stet and Roger Rueff as interim membership manager. Both appointments will last for five months. This period will allow time to establish procedures so Stet can be assembled on time and without strain.

    What you see before you is the new Stet, a publication that provides more flexibility and ease of use, requires less time and effort for production, and perhaps will give a little boost to your business profile.

    The new format is flexible, easier to produce, mobile-ready, and Web-searchable.

    This email newsletter format can be read as it is on your computer screen, no waiting for a web page to load, no need to download a separate file. Or you can print out Stet, or you can read it on a smartphone or tablet as many people already read other publications.

    Each issue of Stet will also be available on our website and searchable from the search box on the left side of the IWOC web pages, so if you can’t remember when something was in Stet, just type a keyword or two into the search box. And because Stet will be archived in a blog format, it will also be open to search engines such as Google, so anything in Stet that mentions you—a presentation you give, a column you write, a meeting recap you write, or your bit of member news—will be found by people outside IWOC. The blog format also allows IWOC members to post comments on any issue.

    IWOC members can now post comments on any issue of Stet.

    On the production end we now have a publication that can be created without the need for expertise in pagination software such as InDesign or in Web-design software. Because these skills are not common, relying on them to produce Stet means the newsletter can be sidelined by someone’s illness or personal disaster. The email format, combined with the procedures that will be established, will allow anyone in exigency to keep the newsletter in production.

    In a few months we will open the Stet editor and membership manager positions for people who want to fill them long-term. The editor will be responsible for gathering content and assembling each issue. The membership manager takes care of our member database: watches renewals and payments, edits records as needed, approves new members, maintains the list of contacts, answers questions, and so on. Because these duties require consistent blocks of time there is compensation: $250 per month for the Stet editor and $150 per month for the membership manager. Keep this in mind, and if you’re interested in doing either of these jobs, watch for the announcement of openings in early spring.

    IWOC and Stet will be stronger with contributions from everyone.

    Please bear with us during the transition. Everyone hopes for an uneventful shift to a new production process, but experience shows there may be rough spots. As we go through this, please do not hesitate to offer your suggestions and contributions. If there is something you would like to see in Stet, tell us. And if you have always cherished a secret desire to write a column, let that desire flower in Stet. Both IWOC and Stet will be stronger with contributions from everyone.

    That point about contributions and group effort brings me to my last point. You may know that we have a separate Program Committee responsible for arranging the informative meetings available to you every month. For this year, instead of filling the calendar a few months at a time, the committee brainstormed all the topics. I won’t say the focus for each month is firm—especially since I don’t have anything to do with it—but here is a taste of what to expect: February, freelance writing for the media; March, taxes, accounting, and making a profit; May, marketing and business strategies; June, how freelancing can help you in other careers; September, niche-based strategies. Compliments go to Sally Chapralis, Vladimire Herard, Tom Lanning, and Stu Truelson for taking this task and, as they say, crushing it.

    - David Steinkraus

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    IWOC Holiday Party 2015

    Fun, Food, and Fellowship at Star of Siam

    Betsy and Roger yodeling or surprised?

    The IWOC Holiday Party was held at Star of Siam on December 8th, 2015. Everyone in attendance had a great time! The food was very good and so was the service! Many thanks to Laura Stigler for taking the time to set up the party and ensuring that a good meal and a good time was had by all.

    The evening began with some beverages and conversation. Catching up with old friends, making new ones and mugging for random photos. Dinner was served family style with plenty of good food. Santa’s elves brought presents for everyone, and the annual book exchange provided new reads to everyone, as well.

    If you were unable to attend this year, make plans now to join us next year!

    - Cynthia Tomusiak

    Karleen, Brent, Roger, and George hold a serious holiday confab
    Karen and Vladimire evoke an Ingmar Bergman film
    Sally and Karen mug shamelessly for the camera
    Joyous holiday trouble a-brewin'
    Betsy, Laura, and Jeff beam with the glow of holiday IWOC-ness

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    Game Night and Pizza Party!

    What's the Word, Hummingbird?

    More than good friends and good food came out of this year’s IWOC holiday party! While people were toasting and chatting an idea was formed: Why not get together after the holidays? And why not have a little competition, with words?

    And voila! Here it comes—a post-holiday season word-game and social for IWOC members courtesy of Betsy Storm.

    The games will take place on Friday, January 15th, starting at 6:00 p.m. at Betsy's condo in Chicago. Betsy will have  salad and pizza ready, but you're on your own for drinks of any kind (B.Y.O.B.).

    Join us for some after-holiday fun!

    The cost is a mere $10, to cover the food, and we'll need an accurate head count, so if you're planning on coming, make sure to register online (no walk-ins, please).

    And be prepared for revelry and rivalry on a battlefield strewn with words!

    - Cynthia Tomusiak

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