Recently I wrote a guest post for Jesaka Long at AKA Writer about balancing motherhood, full-time work and the writing life. In response to that post, I received a nice comment from a freelance writer, Kris Bordessa. After some research about Kris’ work, a visit to her website and a few e-mail exchanges, I asked Kris if she’d be willing to join me for a Q&A at Motherlogue. I’m happy to report that she agreed.
Like many of us, Kris is a mother who started writing while her kids were young and she’s continued to develop her freelance career. In 2009 Kris, along with tow other writers Teri Cettina and Jeannette Moninger, published an e-book, Cash In On Your Kids: Parenting Queries That Worked. This e-book contains advice and examples of query letters that these writer mamas sent to national magazines and which landed them assignments at publications such as Real Simple, Parenting and Pregnancy Magazine. I’m thrilled to have made Kris’ acquaintance through the blogsphere and to share her thoughts about writing with you.
What was your background before you started freelance writing? Did you study journalism or English or have a 9 to 5 career in communications?
I actually spent years working in the field of Landscape Architecture, but writing has always been a way for me to process through events. Publication was a natural – if slow in coming – next step!
How long have you been a freelance writer? What prompted you to begin this career?
I’ve been writing professionally for nearly ten years, now. I started out as I think many writing moms do: squeezing writing time in between the care and feeding of baby. In my case, I’d write an essay, get busy with laundry, and forget about it for months at a time. I did submit to a few markets, but I was haphazard in doing so at best. One of those haphazard submissions caught the eye of an editor at FamilyFun – two years after I’d submitted it! I realized two things with that acceptance: 1. This business is crazy slow and 2. If I was ever going to take this writing business seriously, the time to do it was when I had a fresh publication credit to my name.
What was the first article you sold? How does that piece differ from what you write today?
It was a first person personal essay based on my own experience as a parent and becoming the tooth fairy. I’ve sold various essays over the years, but frankly I don’t write as many any more. I like to write them – but they’re a hard sell. Magazines publish so few personal accounts these days and competition is fierce. Most of what I write today is either service driven or related to travel, and of those two, there’s definitely more demand for service pieces!
What suggestions do you have for writers who want to move from queries to getting assignments?
Follow up. Follow up. Follow up! Really. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had no response to a query and found out with a follow up that the message had gotten lost in a spam folder, or the editor liked it but it quickly moved off her radar. Editors are busy. Don’t hound them, but definitely take a minute to touch base 2-3 weeks after your initial contact. If you still don’t get a response, turn that query around and immediately submit to the next magazine on your list. Keep them circulating!
I’ve known Teri and Jeannette via an internet writer’s group for years. We met a couple of years ago at a conference and talked about the possibility of a book geared specifically toward parents who want to break into writing. We discussed the information that we wished we’d had when we started writing and how it took us years to figure some of this stuff out. From our own experiences, we answered typical beginner questions — like what in the world is a query letter anyway?? But we didn’t stop there. One thing that we all agreed on was that as beginners we wanted to know what an actual query looked like. So we gathered 16 of the queries that have netted us assignments of up to $3600 from publications like Real Simple, Parenting, Parents, Redbook, FamilyFun and more, and included those in the book. We share queries for both short articles and features, for an even broader look at how best to tackle a subject.
How did you find an online writer’s group? Any advice for someone who might want to start one?
There are a good number of writer’s groups online, whether in the form of a yahoo group or an open forum. I highly recommend Freelance Success . It’s a paid service, but in my opinion totally worth it. The forums are populated by successful freelancers and authors who are amazingly helpful and willing to share advice.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to writers who are sending articles to Regional Parenting Publications?
What I’ve found is that these publications really like to have local writers contribute. If there’s a regional parenting magazine available in your area, look through it and see what you think you can add. Then write a query letter explaining why it’s a story that suits their readers – and why you’re the person to write it.
What piece of advice would you give to writers who are trying to break into national magazines?
I know it’s not what people want to hear, but be persistent. New writers CAN break into national magazines, but unfortunately without any publication credits they’re a risk for editors. Editors would rather assign a story to a writer who has a proven track record in turning in assignments on time and on topic. If you’re pitching a national magazine without any published clips, you’re an unknown quantity. Make sure they know why they should take that risk on you. Do you know 500 ways to reuse baby food jars? Have you eliminated the need to clean up the bathroom after your little boy missed the potty again? You need to suggest a story that only you can write.
I recently read on someone’s blog that parents shouldn’t write about their kids or about being parents. Obviously, for anyone who has read what I write, I don’t agree. I’m curious what your response would be to someone who feels that kids shouldn’t be part of their parent’s writing career.
I’ve written about my kids in essays. When they were little, it wasn’t much of a concern. Now they’re older and would be horrified if I revealed certain information, so I definitely check with them for permission to share details. Of course, an awful lot of what I write doesn’t require me to include the kids in the story at all.
Thanks to Kris for joining us at Motherlogue to share her experience and insight! If you want to stay connected to Kris, you can become a fan of Cash In On Your Kids on Facebook.