What do you do, David Lee?

One of the best things about the magazine industry: the people who work in it. I’ve met so many smart, talented, creative types who are passionate about what they do. I’m featuring some of them in this blog, Q&A-style, starting with David Lee, associate photo editor at Hello! Canada. David and I go way back – we went to the same high school in Scarborough in the mid-’90s, graduating a year apart. David moved on to Ryerson’s journalism program, magazine stream. He’s been at Hello! Canada for three and a half years.

David Lee

David Lee

You were a yearbook photographer in high school. Did that influence your career path? Prior to working on the yearbook, I was already intensely interested in photography, so being able to take photos and use a darkroom only increased my interest in the field. I was also heavily influenced by the work of National Geographic and Time magazine photographers and how powerful an image could be in terms of telling a story. I took that passion with me to journalism school, where I ended up being the visuals editor for the Ryerson Review of Journalism in my final year. That position landed me my first photography-related job as an intern, then as a photo researcher, at Canadian Business magazine.

When did you know you wanted to work in the media, and magazines specifically? It was pretty early on. Before I had even decided to go to journalism school, I had always loved reading magazines. The gorgeous photography and in-depth feature writing were so compelling to me. It wasn’t until I went to university, though, that I knew working in a photo department was something I could do as a career.


What are your main duties? Basically I help research photos for stories, assign some of the photo shoots, and keep in touch with the agencies and photographers who provide us with photos. A huge chunk of my time though is involved with determining and obtaining rights to photographs. With such high-profile subjects and lots of exclusive images, making sure all the rights are in place is an important aspect of my job.

Whom do you work with at Hello! CanadaWe’re a pretty tightly knit team here. Unlike most traditional newsrooms, a lot of the stories are generated because of a photograph. For example, the news of Angelina Jolie’s engagement broke with the release of a photograph of her wearing an engagement ring. Jennifer Aniston’s engagement news broke much the same way. When we find stories like that, the editorial team has to jump in and research the story behind it. I can’t really think of very many other newsrooms that have that kind of dynamic. It’s certainly different from a traditional monthly magazine, that’s for sure! On the flipside, the editorial team has to keep the photo department informed of what subjects they’d like us to photograph and what stories they’re working on. The art department sits between both realms and lets us know if there are different photos that they’d like to use or they need more images to flesh out a story.

Hello! Canada is a weekly publication. What is a typical week like for you? Typically our week starts out on Wednesday after we’ve closed last week’s issue. The editorial department will give the photo department a list of photos to start researching for some of the givens in the book: What’s On and the Lifestyle section. By Friday, we’ll have a sense of what stories we’d like to put into the news section of the magazine, and we’ll start putting some photos together for those. Once Monday rolls around, it’s basically non-stop until we close the magazine on Tuesday. A lot of the news that we cover happens from Friday to Sunday, sothere will be a lot of photographs to pore over and stories to consider.

Hello! Canada Avril Lavigne wedding cover

When choosing images, do you work with guidelines, or do you have a lot of freedom? Every magazine has a visual style and Hello! is no different. There would be photos that would look obviously out of place in our magazine. Within the style of the magazine, though, there is still a lot of freedom. For major events like the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine, there were thousands of different images to choose from. For a more typical news story, there are still a variety of things we can try. For feature stories, we can be a bit more creative as well and try things that we wouldn’t normally try in a news story, but again I think that’s true for any publication. Although the pictures we choose may differ from other publications, I think the process the photo department goes through is very similar.

What are some of your favourite issues, features or photo assignments? I’ve always liked when we do our big portrait-focused issues, like our Most Beautiful Canadians or Hottest Bachelor issues. We get to use photography from some of the biggest names in photography in our magazine. Some names that come to mind are Annie Leibovitz, Mario Testino, Herb Ritts and Peter Lindbergh. It absolutely never gets tiring to look at the stunning photography from the masters of portraiture. Aside from that, anytime there’s a huge news event like the royal wedding or the coronation anniversary, it’s really exhilarating to see the wealth of images coming in and just having so much to choose from. Getting to photograph a celebrity is always exciting. Working with talented people in front of the lens and behind it is always satisfying. Our recent fashion shoot with Avril Lavigne for our Canada’s Most Beautiful issue is a perfect example of that. Celebrity photographer Mark Liddell, who shot the story for us, worked extensively with Avril before, and I think it really shows in the pictures. Where sometimes a celebrity will be really stiff working with someone they’re unfamiliar with, the results you can get when the shooter and subject have a great rapport are fantastic. Sometimes when things go really well, it can lead to other opportunities, like getting the exclusive on her wedding photos, which Mark Liddell also shot for us.

How do you approach a big story like the royal baby? With big news stories, we go into the event with a plan in mind but it’s always difficult to know exactly what you’re going to get. You can guess at what kind of photos there will be, but until the event actually happens, there are no guarantees. For example, with the royal baby, we knew ahead of time that they were going to be coming out of the front doors of the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital and that they would pause for a picture, but that only really guaranteed us two or three different kinds of photos. Getting the Middletons and Prince Charles and Camilla visiting the hospital were unannounced extras for us. The various expressions that they had and the interaction between the two was different from when William was brought out from the hospital by Diana and Charles.

How does choosing photos for print and web differ? Choosing images for the web is a bit different because of the way images are consumed. In print, you have very tight control in terms of how one photo relates to other photos on a page and how that arrangement tells a story.

At magazines that don’t have a photo editor, who researches and selects images? Some publications use a freelance photo editor or photo researcher on a per-project or per-story basis. Some publications will just use the art director to research the photos.

What tips do you have for people interested in being a photo editor? While there are courses out there to get started, most of the skills related to being a photo editor are learned on the job. Aside from time on the mountain, though, the best thing you can do is immerse yourself in photography. Learn about photographers from the past like Henri Cartier-Bresson, who defined The Decisive Moment, and current photographers like Edward Burtynsky, whose landscape photography is unparalleled in my opinion. Take this and apply it to whatever publication you’re working for, or want to work for. In my case it’s all about celebrity photography, so I try and keep on top of all aspects of the business, like the agencies (Getty, Reuters, AP), candid photographers and celebrity portraitists.

How about advice on image selection for editors who aren’t photo editors? I think most people have a visceral response to photography – you probably already have an idea of what makes a good photograph and what doesn’t. What a photo editor brings to the table, though, is being able to choose the best photograph from a group of the best photographs. That’s a much harder thing to do. Then to take those best photographs and put them together into something that tells a story is another thing on top of that. I think that sometimes editors forget that the photo editor’s job is much like an editorial editor.

Cover images courtesy of Hello! Canada. 

Words Around the Web

Sign with text "Zombies Ahead"I’m back to blogging. Let’s start the week with recent online resources for both editors and writers.

Here’s an easy editing tip—complete with zombies—to detect passive voice (via MediaBistro and USMC prof Rebecca Johnson, @johnsonr).

Unsent emails, unreturned phone calls…instead of repeatedly dropping the ball, should you say “no” more often? Fast Company offers seven steps to a cure.

If you cover science and health, sign up for news from the Science Media Centre of Canada, a non-profit organization that helps reporters understand current topics and find expert sources.

Pick up the phone! On The Renegade Writer blog, freelancer Suchi Rudra explains why writers should call (not email) their editors.

Great blog alert: “Notes From My Desk” by freelance journalist Mridu Khullar Relph. Recent topics include: how freelancers can better handle sick days; what she learned from hiring other writers; and how to choose blog topics.

Summer slowdown? Try my ideas for productive downtime.

Healing words for a community: how literary magazine Newtowner responded in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting.



Q&A: Nicole Cohen, Part 2

Welcome to the second half of my Q&A with journalist and academic Nicole Cohen. Part 1 is available here.

Photo of Nicole CohenJaclyn Law: You wrote an article for Just Labour: A Canadian Journal of Work and Society, titled “Negotiating Writers’ Rights: Freelance Cultural Labour and the Challenge of Organizing.” You suggested that a union could be “the most effective way to challenge powerful publishers.” Unions for Canadian freelancers are a relatively recent development. Why, historically, has it been difficult to organize freelancers to take collective action?

Nicole Cohen: I think the history of PWAC as an organization is instructive here. When PWAC was forming in the late 1970s, there was a big debate about whether to become a union or a professional association. Ultimately it became a professional association, but at its formation the group was oriented to spirited resistance: it negotiated contracts with 19 magazines and twice threatened to go on strike.

That spirit faded over the decades, but recently we have seen renewed energy around organizing freelancers, both from the Canadian Freelance Union and the Canadian Media Guild, which has long represented freelancers at the CBC but is now organizing freelancers across the media industries. This is exciting, and I think the recent contracts introduced by TC Media, The Toronto Star, and other media companies are spurring freelancers into renewed action—they have had enough. There has been an increase in public outcry, meetings, and campaigns in the past few months, which is promising.

There are, of course, challenges to organizing freelancers, but I wanted to begin my answer to this question by pointing out that it is not impossible, as most assume, and there are many historical examples of freelancers successfully organizing (see, for example, freelancers in film and television, in the visual arts, and the Freelancers Union in the United States, which is the fastest-growing workers’ organization in America).

That said, there are specific conditions that make organizing freelancers in Canada difficult. For example, freelancers work alone, isolated from one another, and often don’t know other freelancers (this makes it difficult to organize to withhold labour or services, for example). Freelancers have long had antagonistic relationships with unions, as newsroom unions worked to limit the amount of work contracted to freelancers (this is changing, as the CEP is now the parent union of the CFU). Legally, the structures of labour representation in Canada are built on a model of single-workplace bargaining, which makes it difficult to organize workers who work for multiple employers or on multiple worksites to collectively bargain.

What I found interesting is that the skills one needs to develop to be a successful freelancer, and the structure of freelance journalism as highly individualized work, mean that freelancers develop highly individualized coping strategies and particular occupational identities (as individuals, entrepreneurs, and professionals) that are not conducive to collective action or organizing.

Finally, in a small industry based on reputation, many freelancers are hesitant to speak out or complain, for fear of losing work (Amber Nasrulla’s recent post on Story Board speaks to this problem).

There are challenges, of course, but it’s not impossible to organize freelancers to collectively confront the challenges they face. There is a lot of activity going on right now around contracts, which is encouraging.

JL: Many freelancers do traditional media work such as article writing and copy editing in combination with corporate work, which is typically work-for-hire—freelancers don’t retain copyright and don’t expect to, and they are often paid better rates. Is this the way of the future, in terms of having a viable freelance career? What could it mean for the profession of journalism? 

NC: Freelancers have always done other work to sustain themselves, especially in Canada, where we have smaller media markets, fewer companies and lower rates of pay than, for example, in the United States.

What I found in my survey was that freelancers note that they are doing more and more of the corporate or teaching or non-journalism-related work and less journalism, and many express frustration at this because they got into freelancing specifically to do journalism. In my survey, most freelancers say they want to write long-form, investigative journalism or books, but most earn all or some of their living from corporate writing.

Of course, not all freelancers are journalists and many do not want to be. The problem, however, is that fewer people are able to earn a living doing journalistic work even though an increasing amount of journalistic work is being outsourced to freelancers. I think this has several implications. For one, it means that skilled journalists committed to their craft are leaving the occupation. It means that journalism will increasingly become an occupation for only those who can afford to be a journalist, which increasingly means being able to sustain oneself as a freelancer. This will have the effect of limiting whose voices and perspectives will be heard.

Ultimately, the challenges freelance journalists face affect the quality of content in media. Low pay means that people focus on the stories that are faster to produce in order to make freelancers’ time worthwhile, and we will lose the kind of journalism freelancers have traditionally excelled at: long form, more creative, challenging types of journalism.

JL: Is there an upside to precarious employment? In an age of newsroom layoffs and outsourcing, could freelancers be better off in some ways—more adaptable, more responsive to the market? There’s been a lot of talk about the creative class, and recent developments like communal workspaces and the benefits of technology for mobile workers. Are these developments a good thing?

NC: I would never say there is an upside to precarious employment—research consistently shows that conditions of precarious employment have negative implications for workers across the labour market: lower wages, economic and social insecurity, no access to benefits or social protections, and risk of poor physical and mental health, for example. But I do think it’s important to recognize that many people do choose to work as freelancers and become self-employed—this is not entirely a top-down process (even though a quick scan of job postings and a look at the numbers of layoffs in media in this country show that it is getting more and more difficult to find employment in media, especially for writers).

Self-employment offers opportunities and advantages, and I think historically we can think of freelance cultural workers as refusing to engage in waged-labour and seeking ways to be autonomous and in control of their work and their lives. And the ability of freelancers to have access to workspaces and mobile technologies and, perhaps, even ways to self-publish, does show promising signs that workers can, potentially, liberate themselves from employers.

The challenge, however, is that in our economy, security is tied to employment, and although we have a rise of self-employment and freelancing, we are not seeing an increase in social protections and institutions to support these workers or this form of work—our social policy and security is tied to employment. And while many individuals do succeed as freelancers (interestingly, they are usually the ones advocating that we all become freelancers), self-employment is polarizing: most earn low incomes, experience insecurity, and would prefer secure work.

I think it’s important to look at the power relations that underpin freelance work: who is benefiting, and at whose expense? And what do we need to do to make flexible work flexible (and secure) for workers, not just provide flexibility for companies to offload the risks and costs of production onto individuals.

JL: Can you talk briefly about your current research?

NC: My doctoral research investigated traditional realms of freelance journalism, specifically newspaper and magazine publishing. I am now beginning to research new publishing models that have emerged in the digital age, or digital-first journalism, and the production practices that are made possible by the rise and spread of a freelance media workforce. I am interested in examining what possibilities exist to improve media workers’ autonomy, opportunities, and material conditions, and in investigating the social and power relations emerging with a new era of digital publishing.

I am also currently collaborating with Greig de Peuter and Enda Brophy on a research project we have called “Cultural Workers Organize.” We are investigating how cultural workers in a range of flexible employment forms (freelancers, interns, contract workers, the self-employed) in the most vaunted sectors of the creative economy (media, fashion, art, etc.) are collectively responding to precarious employment. We are examining experiments happening on the margins of the labour movement globally to respond to precarity (you can read more at our website, culturalworkersorganize.org).


For more Nicole Cohen, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.


Q&A: Nicole Cohen, Part 1

I’ve long admired Nicole Cohen for co-founding Shameless magazine and for her research into the labour conditions of interns and freelancers. At the end of March, she gave a presentation about her academic work, including the results of her online survey about freelancing, conducted in 2010. I attended along with other freelancers, and I was stunned by her talk—I thought, “More people need to hear this!” So I invited Nicole, a recently minted PhD and, as of July 1, the University of Toronto Mississauga’s new assistant professor in the Institute of Communication, Culture and Information Technology, to take part in a Q&A. 

Photo of Nicole Cohen

Jaclyn Law: Can you tell me about your education and journalism background?

Nicole Cohen: I graduated from Ryerson’s journalism program in 2003 and planned to be a journalist, but wanted to learn more about the world, as I spent most of my time at Ryerson working on The Eyeopener and not in my classes. I was really excited about the prospects of working as a journalist in Canada. I had done an internship at Eye Weekly and was hired as a staff writer, had done a short stint in The Star’s Radio Room program, and was freelancing for several publications: The Star, This magazine, Eye Weekly and others. I had also co-founded Shameless magazine with Melinda Mattos in 2003, when we graduated from Ryerson. While starting my journalism career by freelancing, I was taking part-time classes at York University, which eventually led me to do a MA in political science at York. I decided to do a PhD in the Graduate Program in Communication and Culture, as York offers good funding for graduate students and I was awarded a fellowship and realized that graduate studies, oddly, was a more secure form of employment than freelancing, one that would also allow me to continue to write and publish.

Based on my experience as a journalist and working in alternative/independent media, I gravitated toward communication studies and began studying political economy of communications, a critical approach to media and journalism that examines the power relations and social relations in these industries. It was then that I began thinking much more critically about my own experiences as a media worker and why, for example, I was spending weeks researching long, investigative articles for Eye Weekly and being paid $250 per article (of course now I realize that I should have negotiated a higher fee!).

At the time, around 2006, a lot of academic research was emerging that was paying attention to work and labour conditions in media and cultural industries, and this research intersected with research in political science and sociology on precarious employment, which has been spreading into growing numbers of occupations in the past few decades. At the time, I was part of a freelance journalist community that was experiencing low and stagnating wages and increasingly restrictive contracts for copyright. The Canadian Freelance Union was also emerging, which pointed to the very serious issues Canadian freelancers were facing in trying to earn a living—serious enough to establish a trade union.

It seemed to me at the time that it was impossible to understand contemporary media and journalism, as political economy aims to do, without understanding the material conditions of those who produce media and journalism. And so, when choosing a research topic, I chose to research what I knew and investigated the working conditions and labour conditions of freelance journalists in Canada. I defended my dissertation in February 2013. I wrote my dissertation as a book and plan to submit it to a publisher this summer or fall.

JL: Can you tell me about your academic work, in particular your PhD work and online survey?

NC: Broadly, I research in the area of critical political economy of communication, with a focus on work and labour organizing in media and cultural industries. My dissertation examines the working conditions of Canadian freelance journalists and freelancers’ efforts to collectively address the challenges they face. I spent about three years researching and writing the dissertation.

The empirical section of my work draws on an online survey I conducted in 2010 of self-identified freelance journalists across Canada. Two hundred freelancers responded. The survey consisted of a mix of quantitative questions (salary, hours worked, type of work, etc.) but also contained a significant qualitative component, where I asked a series of open-ended questions about how freelancers experience their work, what they like and don’t like about freelancing, their attitudes toward collective organizing and unions, for example. I can’t say the survey is an accurate representative sample of all freelancers in Canada (freelance journalists are very difficult to count, as it’s such a fluid profession, and each freelancer has vastly different experiences of and expectations from work than the next) but it does offer insight into the tensions and challenges that underpin the experience of freelancing in contemporary media industries.

To supplement the survey, I interviewed members and organizers of writers’ organizations and unions, including the CEP, CFU, PWAC, CMG and others (including the Freelancers Union in New York City, the National Writers Union in the US, and the National Union of Journalists’ freelance branch in the UK). The rest of the work draws on theoretical and academic literature in communication and labour studies. Overall, I look at the underlying processes, practices, and social relations that shape the work of contemporary freelance journalism and challenge taken-for-granted assumptions that freelance writing is inherently low-paid work.

The argument I make is that freelance journalism has been transformed from, historically, being a strategy of resisting salaried labour by journalists—an effort to gain some control over the terms of commodification of their labour power and autonomy over their craft—into a strategy for media firms to intensify exploitation of freelance writers’ labour power through two primary strategies: the exploitation of unpaid labour time and control of copyright to writers’ works.

JL: Freelance income rates have remained stagnant—and even declined—since the 1970s, and contracts are demanding more rights than ever before. What are some other challenges that freelancers face?

NC: Low and stagnant rates are a major challenge, as is the new contract regime that publishers have introduced, contracts that demand all rights to writers’ works, or rights in a bundle for a very small fee (including, recently with TC Media’s contract, moral rights). These two key aspects of freelancing mean that while there is lots of journalistic work available to freelancers, especially as media companies contract and layoff staff, this work is low paid and freelancers are not earning as much as they can from their works due to highly restrictive contracts. Publishers are buying rights to writers’ works for multiple formats and venues, and so it seems that writers should be able to earn increasing income from the stories they write. But this is not the case—publishers are in a very powerful position and most individual freelancers are in a very weak bargaining position.

These two challenges to freelancers’ incomes are linked to a host of other challenges freelance journalists (and, arguably, all freelance or self-employed workers) face: because rates per word or per article remain very low, freelancers must work longer hours to earn higher incomes. Although most freelancers say they are freelancers because they want flexible schedules, or more control over their time, most work long hours and have intermittent but intense workloads. Work is experienced in feast-or-famine style: too much work tempered by stretches of no work at all. Freelancers must take on multiple projects at once and always be hustling to find work. Self-employed workers have limited access to benefits and social protections, such as EI, pensions, or parental leave.

These challenges have been experienced by freelancers throughout history, of course, but they have intensified in recent decades, as more people are working as freelancers than ever before and, as you note, rates of pay in Canadian journalism remain absurdly low. The freelancers I surveyed, most of who report enjoying the work they do, say the aspects of the job they like least include marketing and promotions, the constant and relentless pitching, and not having control over how much work they have or how much money they will earn (most freelancers do not set their rates for the work they do). Many are leaving journalism, or taking on more and more non-journalistic work, even though many say they became freelancers in the first place to do more interesting work.

JL: In your 2012 paper for tripleC, “Cultural Work as a Site of Struggle: Freelancers and Exploitation,” you’ve applied the framework of Marxist political economy to freelance writers, pointing out how independent workers experience the exploitation typically associated with the employer-employee relationship. Can you talk about the ways that freelancers are exploited? 

NC: In my work, I look at how freelance journalists, like all workers, are exploited under capitalism. I use the term in its technical sense: as Marx explained, workers are exploited because they produce more value (surplus value, or profit) than what they are paid, and that surplus is controlled by an employer.

These relations become difficult to see in the case of freelancers, who are self-employed workers, yet workers nonetheless. For one, freelancers sell single pieces of work to a publisher, so it appears that they are not paid for their time at work, like other workers, and freelancers’ names are attached to their articles and to the invoices they submit for payment, further emphasizing that freelancers work for themselves. But with low and stagnant rates of pay, it is becoming increasingly clear that relations of exploitation underpinning freelance journalism are intensifying in contemporary capitalism.

I outline two primary areas of exploitation in my research: one, unpaid labour time, and two, copyright. Freelance labour is very cheap for publishers. By purchasing finished works, for which freelancers are paid an arbitrary per-word or per-article rate, publishers don’t have to pay for the time it takes to develop a piece, research, do interviews, rewrite and edit, and all the tasks that are necessary for producing journalism. For freelance writers, this includes the time of developing ideas, networking, pitching, running a business, invoicing, promoting—a very long list. This unpaid work is critical for the work of writing, yet the low rates writers are paid—rates that have remained stagnant for decades—mean that the cost of writers’ labour power is lowered, or, exploitation is increased. And this is for writing that is paid. The spread of free writing, or writing for “exposure,” on major news sites like the Huffington Post increases the generalized exploitation of freelancers and further lowers the value of their labour power.

The second aspect of exploitation is through contracts for copyright, which are demanding escalating rights for minimal pay and limit writers’ abilities to resell and repurpose their works. Media companies, on the other hand, retain all rights (in perpetuity, throughout the universe, in formats yet to be invented, as most contracts now stipulate) to endlessly exploit a piece of writing. These exploitative practices have generated highly unequal conditions for freelancers in Canada.

These practices, of course, are not evenly applied across the media landscape, as there are many publications in Canada that do not exist simply to earn profit, ranging from activist media to not-for-profit and independent publications. But the majority of newspapers, magazines, and websites in Canada are published by large, converged media corporations that are very, very profitable. Key to their success has been offloading of the risks and costs of media production onto individual freelancers who have little power to negotiate for higher rates of pay and improved contracts.
Read Q&A: Nicole Cohen, Part 2.


Freelancing advice from across the pond

What do freelancers in the U.K. need to know about running their businesses? Pretty much the same things we Canadians do. Here are two helpful new e-books by British freelancers.


Become a Freelance Writer: Your complete guide to the business of writing
By Rachael Oku; Harriman House, 2013; 52 pages
About $7 for Kindle and iBooks editions

London-based writer/editor Rachael Oku provides tips on setting up, promoting and running a freelance business. In a conversational tone, Oku covers networking, finding work, creating a social media presence, positioning yourself as an expert, pricing your services and much more. (Her list of common freelancing pitfalls is, on its own, worth the price of admission.) She also includes ideas that are likely more common in the U.K. than in Canada (such as selling ads on your site or creating a “media kit” with a list of your services and rates, a photo, clips, etc.).

Oku is well acquainted with the ups and downs of freelance life—she’s the driving force behind Creative-Bloc, a social enterprise/hub for writers, launched in 2012. (Disclosure: I’ve written a couple of blog posts for the site.) The wide-ranging topics and encouraging words of Become a Freelance Writer will be especially beneficial for new and aspiring freelancers.


Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers: A Guide for New Starters
By Louise Harnby in association with The Publishing Training Centre, 2013; 126 pages
About $8 for Kindle and Smashwords editions

Editors, there’s an e-book for you too. Author Louise Harnby has been a freelance proofreader since 2005, and she’s also the owner of the Proofreader’s Parlour, a blog for editors and proofreaders. Her e-book covers freelancing essentials such as business plans (yes, you need one), different types of editing, training, promotion, networking, working with clients, resources and more.

Written with absolute beginners in mind, the e-book also contains ideas for gaining work experience, as well as case studies featuring stories from other freelancers (including a Canadian editor). This detailed, practical guide is a great read for anyone hoping to bust out of a cubicle and into a rewarding and sustainable editing career.

Elsewhere in the blogosphere: The Story Board recently reviewed The Freelancers’ Bible, by Sara Horowitz, founder of American organization Freelancers Union. I can’t wait to get my hands on it.



Reading list: Career advice, Mr. Magazine’s new vids and more

In a videotaped interview for CBS, More Magazine’s editor-in-chief, Lesley Jane Seymour, offers career advice for aspiring editors: “If you’re young and you’re getting out of school, you must go digital, you must know how to code, you must start in the digital area. You can always go backwards into print.”

Mr. Magazine, a.k.a. Samir Husni, has a new series of short videos called “Mr. Magazine Minute.” Watch clips featuring American magazine luminaries such as Chris Johns, editor-in-chief of National Geographic; David Carey, president of Hearst Magazines; and Richard Stengel, managing editor of TIME Magazine.

The horror! In a bid to reduce confusion, officials in southwestern England’s Mid Devon District proposed that “All punctuation, including apostrophes, shall be avoided” on street signs. Find out who won here. Thanks to Corinna vanGerwen for alerting me.

Freelancers are often nervous about saying “no” when they’re offered work (what if the editor never calls again?). WordCount and Freelance Folder have good suggestions on how to decide, and how to offer value even when you can’t accept the gig.

Is it tax season already?! Self-employed people have until June 17, 2013, to file their income tax returns, says the CRA—but any money they owe is still due by April 30. Check out Story Board’s tax tips for freelancers, and consult a tax pro if you’re not sure what expenses you can deduct.


Q&A: Heidi Waechtler

Photo of editor Heidi Waechtler

Editor Heidi Waechtler

McClelland & Stewart recently released a new edition of The Canadian Writer’s Market: The Essential Guide for Freelance Writers. To find out how the book is staying relevant to today’s freelancers, I checked in with Heidi Waechtler, the editor who updated it.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

I grew up in Vancouver and studied English at UBC. While working in communications, I completed an editing certificate through Simon Fraser University and began doing freelance editing work on the side. I was always interested in how editorial fit into the larger publishing process, and so after working for the Magazine Association of British Columbia for three years, I returned to SFU to do the Master of Publishing program. I moved to Toronto recently to intern in the editorial department at McClelland & Stewart as a part of my graduate studies, which led me to my current position as the publishing assistant at Coach House Books.

It’s been almost three years since the 18th edition of The Canadian Writer’s Market, updated by Joanna Karaplis, came out. How does the 19th edition reflect changes in the market since 2010?

One of my priorities for updating the guide was to give due attention to some of the business models and publishing platforms that have taken off in recent years, including publishers that specialize in e-books (such as Iguana Books), print-on-demand (e.g., Frog Eat Frog), and self-publishing (e.g., FriesenPress). The guide recognizes that in addition to applying for grants and awards, authors may seek to finance their writing through crowdfunding websites such as Indiegogo, or participate in collaborative publishing efforts such as those at Deux Voiliers, a small press where authors, editors, and artists pool their skills and resources to bring books to market. Certainly, there have been consolidations and closures in the market since the last edition of the guide was published, but many launches, as well; as noted in the introduction, there are currently almost 2,000 Canadian magazines listed in CARD Online, as compared to 2010 when there were roughly 1,800. (Users of previous editions might also notice the 19th edition also has a spiffy new cover design, by Andrew Roberts, that reflects changing technology!)

Cover of The Canadian Writer's Market

Can you tell me about the process of updating the guide?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the framework established by editors of previous editions, including Sandra B. Tooze and Jem Bates. At the outset of the project, I reviewed some of the statistics, reports, and information available through resources including The Writers’ Union of Canada, CARD Online, StatsCan, Masthead Online, Quill & Quire, and the Book and Periodical Council of Canada, to get a current snapshot of the industry. I also spoke informally with a handful of writers, as well as editors and educators, about how the book might be made more useful and relevant from their respective points of view. I then reached out to publishers and editors across the country to find out what kind of writing they’re looking for, how they prefer to receive it, and their rates and payment terms. Often, this information is not readily available on a company’s website, or it’s difficult to find, or outdated, and this is where a central reference helps make the researching and pitching process less opaque. I would suggest that to complement the information found in The Canadian Writer’s Market, writers would do well to attend networking events and participate in the discussions happening on writer-oriented blogs, listservs, and community forums to share information. I should note that I also had assistance from a former colleague, Rachel Geertsema, with updating the awards section of the guide.

The book has a rich directory of Canadian consumer, trade, business, farm and professional publications and newspapers, plus educational resources, writers’ retreats, literary agents, writing contests and grants, organizations and more. As you were researching, what did you find especially useful, compelling or surprising?

What I found most heartening, while doing the research, was the numerous venues for underpublished and emerging writers to get their work out there, including cultural and literary magazines that have launched in the past few years, such as Sad MagLester’s Army and Poetry Is Dead, and small independent presses such as The Workhorsery and Invisible Publishing. Corresponding with the staff at these organizations, and reading through their respective submission guidelines, I found their enthusiasm to be both palpable and infectious! Also, the sheer number of B2B magazines is impressive. We list nearly 300 in the 19th edition—everything from Canadian Pizza Magazine to Manure Manager to Canadian Funeral Director Magazine. B2B is a fast-growing sector, and although it can be a harder market to break into, your persistence, when combined with your passions, could pay off here.

There is no info about working for corporate clients, marketing companies or other agencies. Why doesn’t the guide cover this type of writing?

Indeed, opportunities abound to write for clients outside of traditional publishing channels, and these can be quite lucrative. However, the size and shape of this market is not readily defined—at least not within the scope of this particular guide. I would suggest writers interested in entering these markets connect with groups such as the Professional Writers Association of Canada, the International Association of Business Communicators in Canada, and the Canadian Public Relations Society. I would add, also, that writing for the professional and trade publications listed in the guide could potentially lead to other projects down the line.

As a freelancer myself, I feel like writers today need to arm themselves with a huge amount of information in order to make a decent go of it and protect our assets. The book’s introduction features sections about querying, copyright, taxes, libel and other topics. Based on your research, what are your top three tips for new freelancers?

1. Know your audience. I heard consistently from magazine editors that writers should avoid telling their readers what they already know, such as rehashing already-overworked topics or interviewing the usual suspects. Read several recent back issues to understand the magazine’s tone and focus, and consult their media kit and audience profiles.

2. Follow submission guidelines to the letter. I know this is obvious, but it bears repeating. Forgetting to enclose a SASE or submitting a whole manuscript instead of a query letter indicates to an editor that you might have trouble sticking to a word count or meeting deadlines.

3. Brush up on your photography skills. Even if their magazines employ professional photographers, many editors mentioned they were looking for high-quality photo support from freelancers. If you’re multimedia-savvy, you might also pitch video, slideshows, or podcasts as part of the package.

For more info about Heidi Waechtler, visit heidiwaechtler.com and follow @heidiwaechtler on Twitter.

Renegade books for Kindle

Just a quick note to let you know that two of my favourite freelancing books, The Renegade Writer and Query Letters That Rock, both co-authored by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell, are available for Kindle at $3 each. The authors are running a sweet contest (Tuesday, Feb. 26 only).

Insider tips: Editors’ advice on surviving and thriving as a writer

networking to meet editorsYou need more than killer queries to succeed as a freelancer. Read on for advice from editors (many of whom are freelancers too) on how to make connections, keep clients happy and enjoy repeat work.


Network and get to know the editors.

Always submit well-written copy on time and to length. Do it again and again and the work will come your way.

Mara Gulens, Director, Publications, and Editor-in-Chief, CMA Magazine

Networking is vital. Attend industry events, join professional organizations and sign yourself up for listservs. Make the most of your time at events by having meaningful conversations with a few people rather than trying to meet as many people as possible (think quality over quantity). We work in a very small industry, and meeting editors and other writers gets your name out there and establishes relationships that can lead to work.

Cara Smusiak, Managing Editor, Canadian Family

CSME’s great because A: it’s cheap and you learn stuff; B: it’s a night out once in a while and freelancing can be very lonely; and C: you’ll meet working editors who aren’t necessarily the Top of the Masthead types but rather the hard-working assigning and knowledgeable pros. Networking with these people will always be your BFF. 
Not only will you find out about stories, you’ll get early warnings about mat leaves, contract jobs, and other “non-story” editing assignments, with which you can feed your family while you’re working on your prize-winning Toronto Life story. Whenever I was freelancing, my kids ate better and my wife slept well partially because I was active in CSME.

Peter Carter, Editor, Today’s Trucking

I wish that writers knew that, in this fast-paced age of online publishing, the speed at which they respond to editors’ emails could significantly impact their chances of getting assignments. I sometimes have stories to assign that I need turned around in a day or two. When considering which writer to reach out to, I hesitate to choose the guy who I know usually takes a full business day just to write me back. Because, what if he says no? Then I’ve lost an entire day.

Kim Shiffman, Managing Editor, Connected

1. Know what the work is worth—and what you’re worth. Connect with other freelancers (TFEW is a great resource) and ask what they would charge and/or have been paid for similar work in similar markets. What is the size (and presumed wealth/budget) of the client? Take into account your level of experience (if you’re a newb, no, you don’t deserve the same rate as someone who brings 15 years of experience to the table). And then figure out what the work is worth to you. Is it an opportunity to do a story you’re passionate about? To work with an editor who is particularly open to helping new writers get great clips? To help an indie publication that you believe in? All of those factors might mean that you’ll work for less than if you were writing marketing copy for Dow Chemical. Run the numbers before you get on the phone to discuss rate with the assigning editor. And if you think the work is worth more, make your case. You may succeed. You may not. But you definitely won’t get if you don’t ask.

2. Don’t personalize professional interactions. This one is tough, because lots of people on the other end of the equation (editors and publishers) do personalize it, taking it as a personal insult if you ask for a higher rate or stand up for yourself in an editorial discussion. But behaving professionally—and by that, I mean not emotionalizing or personalizing conversations about money, editing changes and other issues—will get you further in the long run even if the person you’re talking to isn’t behaving as professionally as you are. If you need to blow off steam, do it after the call or email with a trusted friend or colleague (not in a heat-of-the-moment Facebook post, tweet or message board rant). Does that mean you shouldn’t tell colleagues about poor behaviour by particular editors or clients? No. But do it rationally, calmly and after a cooling-off period. And remember, whatever you share is likely to find its way back to that editor or client, so be prepared to stand by what you say.

3. It’s better to work for free on something you love than to work for free on something you don’t care about. If you’re going to give away your time, do something you care deeply about, not crap work. Think of it this way: you’re about to give away hundreds of dollars’ worth of editorial value. Is this editor or brand really the one you want to give this gift to?

Kim Pittaway, freelance journalist, editor and consultant

1) Never miss deadlines. Unexpected delays and interview blow-offs happen, but you almost always know before the due date if you’re not going to be able to make it. Most editors will happily grant you a little extra time, as long as they know long enough in advance to prepare for it.

2) To make it as a professional writer, you have to act like a pro. The people you need to interview are generally going to keep office hours, so you should too. (That’s not to say you won’t end up working evenings and/or weekends as well. When it rains, it pours.) Always prepare in advance for interviews (i.e., don’t plan on making up all your questions on the fly). For in-person interviews, show up early (or at least on time) and dress appropriately. A CEO won’t likely take you seriously if you’re in a T-shirt and shorts, but a musician’s likely to be put off by a three-piece suit.

Allan Britnell, Managing Editor of Renovation Contractor, freelancer, and president of CSME

1. Check your facts and send your sources. More and more, editors are also fact-checkers, and if you submit a piece that has the facts pre-checked, and if you provide URLs to your sources along with that piece, your editor will love you (assuming those sources aren’t Wikipedia, of course). Please, please, please attribute any statistics, research findings or other questionable “facts” to a source. Not only will your editor want to know where you found that information, but your readers will want to know, too.

2. Don’t steal other people’s work. This may seem like a given, but I’ve seen far too many writers—amateur and professional—submit work that they claim is original but actually contains passages copied verbatim from websites or other published sources. After all, plagiarism doesn’t just mean the entire piece has been copied—it could be as small as a paragraph or sentence. Accidents can happen when you’re gathering research from various sources, so be sure to note where you found your info, and whether what you’ve written is a quote or your own writing. And if you need to quote another publication, attribute it (see #1, above).

Tammy Burns, Online Content Manager, Travel+Escape

Swallow your pride. Become known as someone who does really good, quick rewrites. When the editor tells you that you have to cut 200 words so that the designer can have some precious empty white space on the page, just smile and say, “Of course.” That’s how a one-off job can be parlayed into a career.

James Chatto, Editor, Harry Magazine


Editors, do you have more tips to share? Writers, what has helped you survive and thrive?  

Insider tips: Editors’ advice on pitching articles

Hands making thumbs-up sign for successful magazine pitchesIn an earlier post, I gave you a five-minute crash course on how to pitch magazine articles. Don’t just take my word for it, though! People have different tips and preferences, so I checked in with several editors to find out how writers can raise their pitching success rate. Ready to rock?

Research the magazine and its readership before you pitch. Be prepared to answer the question, “Why is this important for our particular readers?” And the other question, “What’s your angle on this subject that makes your story important?” Personalize the pitch and follow up two days later. Don’t sit there waiting to hear back.

—James Chatto, Editor, Harry Magazine

Whether you’re writing a pitch, a cover letter or an article, I think the first sentence should make the reader want to keep reading to the last word. It should be infused with passion, emotion, humour, intrigue—something that is gripping and creative. I often receive cover letters and pitches that start off with biographical information—and let’s face it, that’s usually boring. Don’t bury the lede. Start your pitch off with a scene or an anecdote, and once he/she is hooked, outline the details—why it’s a good fit for the magazine, who you’ll interview, and information about your skills and experience. Of course, once you’ve established a relationship with an editor, pitching may be as simple as “I have this idea…”

—Cara Smusiak, Managing Editor, Canadian Family

Google, then pitch. The internet has become saturated with the same service journalism topics over and over. Even if you think your idea is timely and original, chances are it’s been covered. Before sending your pitch, do a quick search and make sure you’re pitching something unique and new for the brand. Or, find a way to twist “5 Ways to Lose Weight” with something unexpected. This goes for both print and online pitches, since print stories are always repackaged for online, too.

Think graphic! I could kiss writers who pitch story ideas alongside ideas for charts, infographics, puzzles, cartoons…anything of visual interest that helps translate the concept to readers. Also, the magazine industry is on the cusp of interactive tablet editions becoming the norm, so if you can think of graphic concepts for your pitches, I would hazard you’ll be more successful in years to come.

—Colleen Fisher Tully, Senior Editor, Fresh Juice & FreshJuice.ca

1. a) Be persistent but polite (and never one to the exclusion of the other). Chase your stories and own them, package your pitches and push them, sell yourself—you are your own best advocate and quite possibly (observed with apologies) your only friend. Re-approach after suitable periods of no response; on average, one week. Never send an email without first proofing. Do not rely exclusively on email—use the phone, too (and, particularly if leaving a voicemail, speak succinctly). COMMUNICATION is possibly your greatest asset.

1. b) Be willing to take “No” for an answer. If an outreach fails to yield the response you expected/hoped for, use intuition coupled with the ability to read between the lines to discern when to accept rejection. This can be accomplished with aplomb and can (sometimes) put you in better standing; in any case, it needn’t be equated with the permanent shutting of a door. Worst case, request (politely!) permission to re-approach another time. With more on-the-job experience, it will become easier and easier to discern where is the proverbial line, not to mention stay on the right side of it.

2. Make sure your story sizzles; still, keep it short and sweet. Be your own editor and reader: Don’t pitch a story that doesn’t impress you. Suss out (or inquire directly about) your editor’s preferred pitch model, and deliver exactly on those terms. My own pitch preference is, typically, one targeted overview paragraph with maximum three supporting bullet points. There are, of course, exceptions—you are, after all, a writer, and if you’ve truly “got it,” you’ll probably be able to make yourself exceptional at all levels.

—Gary Butler, Principal at EditButler, and freelance print and web editor

Next time: More tips from editors on how to survive and thrive in the business.