Wednesday, May 9, 2012

More Notes from the Erma Bombeck Workshop - On Cash and Column Craft

One of the surprises of the workshop and one of my favorite speakers was Michele Wojciechowski.

The first night we arrived in Dayton, my sister Kathleen and I rode in a van with "Wo Jo" and her husband Brad to the Erma Celebration at the Centerville Library. What a delight! She was open and friendly, with a wicked sense of humor.

Going into her "Be Funny. Make Money" workshop I knew she was funny, but I had no idea what a smart and savvy businesswoman she is.

During her session, she spoke with wit, wisdom, passion, and an insider's knowledge of making a living as a freelancer.

Here are some highlights:

* Writing is a Product. Editors get paid, printers get paid--You should get paid.
* Don't write for free unless you can get something out of it.
* Some writers claim they do it for the exposure. Wo Jo says, "People can die from too much exposure."
* An example of when it is beneficial to write and not get paid: If you have a book coming out and want free publicity, it's okay to give free content because you are getting free PR for your book out of it.
* Writers should have a "Go for the Gold " Press Kit.
* Fight for your rights; keep as many as you can.
* Negotiate your rights. Editors usually keep a contract in their desk asking only for first rights - ask for it.
* Think in the future; look at the long-term.
* Look at reselling your content, but be careful about the market so they don't overlap.
* A good place to start is with local publications.
* "In the absence of a contract, you are automatically selling first or one-time rights. if you don't sign, you own all other rights."
* To avoid an editor misunderstanding that you expect to be paid when quering about a piece you want to write on spec, always include the statement "if you would like to purchase the rights to my ..."
* Most editors prefer writers to submit as text within an e-mail rather than as an attachment.
* Be polite and be persistent. Once you have an acceptance, send the editor a follow-up. "Thanks. May I send you more?"

She also spoke about how she copyrights her columns to protect her rights. For specific info on copyright, visit the Copyright Office website.

For all the naysayers, she had this to say, "Those who say it can't be done should get out of the way for those who do it."


The last full session on Friday was "The Craft of Column Writing" with W. Bruce Cameron, Connie Schultz, Craig Wilson, and Mary McCarty, moderated by Laura Pulfer.

The format was Q&A. With questions coming from the audience and the panel members responding, some parts were interesting, others not so much. A few questioners took advantage of the opportunity and focused on their own situations. Some panelists spoke more than others. A few times I felt like I was at a political rally when the answers were steered toward politics, but I did manage to jot down several tidbits about the craft of column writing.

* There is no substitute for talent
* Use your contacts
* Do the interviews first
* Look at future opportunities
* Print will find a way to survive
* Market your unique voice
* Don't give your stuff away
* Never write for free
* Use your resources
* Keep at it and they will find you!
* Be relentless
* Because of the Internet and blogs there are voices rising that might not have been heard
* Luck + Talent + Voice = Success
* Focus on quality
* Pay your dues
* Everyday things can be great material for a column
* Column length is usually 300-700 words
* The angrier you are, the funnier you should be.
* Avoid religion or politics (unless you are a political or religion writer)
* Be honest

In my next post I'll write about the fabulous dinner with New York Times bestselling author and screenwriter/producer Adriana Trigiani, author of The Shoemaker's Wife.


  1. Great stuff here, Donna! Looking forward to your next post about Adriana Trigiani. (I've got her newest book on reserve at the library!) :)

    1. Hi Madeline,
      Thanks. I think you'll like her latest book.

  2. Adriana Trigiani is an author whose books I keep looking at, but have not read any of her stuff yet. I'm looking forward to the next installment. (These are going to continue forever, right? Please tell me, Donna, that you have an endless stack of notes and anecdotes to share about this trip--correct? ;)

    1. Hi Sioux,
      Glad to know you are enjoying these posts. I was beginning to wonder if everyone was getting tired of my posts about the workshop.
      No endless stack, but lots of anecdotes about the trip, and just today I received several photos from my reading at the library.

  3. Great information! I love your first highlight - Writing is a Product. Editors get paid, printers get paid-You should get paid. I just had an article printed in our local newspaper, hey, they even put it on the front page. But,of course there was no pay involved. I think if I submit something to them again, I will ask what they pay for freelance articles.

    1. Hi Janet,
      Congratulations on your article making the front page! That is great.
      For the next time, what can it hurt if you ask them to pay? All they can say is no. I like Michele's advice to include the statement, "if you would like to purchase my . . ."

  4. More terrific tips! Thanks, Donna for sharing your experiences with us.

    Critter Alley

  5. Thanks for posting these! I ordered a few of the sessions online--how fun to be at home and listen to a session in my comfy pants with snacks!

    1. Hi Krysten,
      Smart move, and a good way to save $$$.

  6. Donna, I love attedning this conference vicariously through your blog. I can;t wait to hear about A.T. one of my favorite writers.

  7. Loved all your notes - thanks for sharing. Look forward to more.

  8. Great advice. I write a weekly column for a little newspaper that goes out to farmers and their families --- including Amish and Mennonite folks. I know my audience, always.

    About getting paid. Absolutely! I don't get much, but it's enough each month to make me feel like I am truly in the game of writing.

  9. Hi Lynn,
    You are welcome.

    Hi Kate,
    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Congratulations on your weekly column. What you write is so true about knowing your audience.


  10. This is wonderful stuff, Donna! Thanks for sharing it. I especially love that - "Writing is a Product"! It really is, and I am not planning of dying of exposure. :)

    Happy Mother's Day weekend,

    1. Hi Karen,
      Thanks. Wishing you a Happy Mother's Day weekend too!

  11. That advice about valuing yourself and your work and not giving away your product for free is important. So many authors are participating in that Amazon freebie ebook plan, but I just don't see it as a great promotion tool.

  12. I always learn so much here. Thanks!


Mysteries of the Ozarks, Volume V - Interviews with Lonnie Whitaker and Dr. Barri Bumgarner

Here is the second installment of interviews with contributors who have stories in Mysteries of the Ozarks, Volume V , from Ozark Writers, I...