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Stet Blog

Since its inception in the 1980s, the IWOC monthly newsletter, Stet, has featured helpful news, tips, and information for IWOC members and the entire Chicagoland freelance writing community—including previews and recaps of IWOC meetings and events, book and service/software reviews, and advice for developing and sustaining business as an independent writer. As of January 2018, the standard monthly newsletter format has been replaced with the blog format contained on this page, which allows articles to be posted in a more timely fashion, and members to be more interactive by leaving comments. (Simply click on the 3 vertical dots next to each blog's headline.)

We invite contributions from all interested parties both inside and outside of IWOC. Our only criteria are writing quality and the usefulness of the information to independent writers. For information regarding submissions, contact the Stet editor.

ViSIT THE Stet ARCHIVES

Over the years, the Stet delivery format has evolved from snail-mailed paper copy to emailed PDF/HTML file to site-hosted, aggregated blog. Stet issues in PDF/HTML and aggregated-blog format from 2002 to 2017 are available for viewing in our archives.

  • To view PDF/HTML issues of Stet (published from 2002 to 2015), click here.
  • To view Stet in its aggregated-blog format (published from 2016 to 2017), click here.

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  • 20 Apr 2018 7:59 AM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    Onstage Reporters Get Last Laugh Over IWOC Member Playing Mayor in Play

    Many independent writers got their start in the newspaper business, and I am no exception. In the days before journalism schools were the only path to “content creation,” promising writers with entrepreneurial skills, the drive to get the story and a nose for news were hired by newspapers, Chicago’s City News Bureau and even wire services such as the Associated Press without as much emphasis on degrees and grade point averages as managers hiring aspiring journalists rely on nowadays.

    I was hired for my first reporting job near the end of an era that was first heralded in 1928 in the play The Front Page, which takes place in the press room of the Criminal Courts Building in Chicago. On the eve of a murderer’s execution, a lead reporter decides to quit the newspaper business, marry a decent woman and start a respectable job at his father-in-law’s public relations company in New York. But these plans are thwarted when the biggest scoop of his career is thrust into his unwilling lap.

    I’ve always loved the play for its cynical yet comic portrait of how reporters become hardened to human agony and how bottomless the corruption of politicians can be. So when Saint Sebastian Players announced auditions for a production of the play—which opens April 27 at St. Bonaventure in Chicago—I figured that with my on-the-job experience, I would be a shoe-in to play one of the many reporters.

    So imagine my surprise when I was cast on the receiving end of the free press as the Mayor of Chicago, who dominated the pinnacle of political corruption. As a result, I have put to good use my experience observing this species of political animal in its natural habitat—City Hall.

    The reportorial milieu portrayed in The Front Page is not too exaggerated from reality. Everyone who has worked in a newsroom has experienced the rush of excitement that pulses through it when a big story breaks. Reporters race out the door or breathlessly dial phones to get sources’ quotes, the editors scramble to remake the front page, and in the old days, the composing room stops everything until the next big scoop is set on the linotype machines. 

    At the time of The Front Page, tearing out a page layout wasn’t just a matter of pushing a few buttons on a keyboard—it actually meant ripping out lead type that had been blocked into a layout with hammers, melting it down and literally recasting the story.

    I know about this because I experienced several scoops similar to the one in The Front Page during my early newspaper career. One scoop I uncovered, with the assistance of an invaluable informant, occurred when I was a daily newspaper reporter in Kankakee, Illinois, on a sleepy Saturday, traditionally a slow day spent preparing the Sunday edition. I had visited the county jail to get the latest crime reports off the “blotter,” a binder with typed or handwritten police reports in it.

    Such a visit was a daily routine for the reporter assigned to it, which on this day was me. It seemed nothing much had happened in the county on Friday night—or so the county sheriff wanted me to believe—until I learned a few hours later about a scandalous event. As the newsroom was starting to wrap up the Sunday edition, a woman telephoned me from a distant area of the county.

    “I’m just calling to see how the state senator is doing,” she said.

    “What do you mean?” I inquired.

    “I wanted to see if he was injured in the car accident last night,” she explained.

    “What accident?” I demanded. She told me that the state senator had been in a car crash the night before. Didn’t we have all the information on it?

    Within five minutes, the sheriff—who didn’t work Saturdays—was on the phone. I reminded him of what he already knew and had ignored by law, all police records are public documents, and the newspaper had a right to see all of them. He told me to come back to the jail, where the report would be available. I told the photo department, and a photographer immediately was dispatched, tearing off in his car to the police auto pound before the managers there disposed of the senator’s car, which was badly damaged. We tore out the front page and ran the photo there with my article.

    As it turned out, the senator had been driving late Friday night, crashed his car and broke his arm. For the next several days, we heard reports that the senator had been introduced in various drinking establishments that night and did not appear to be as sober as a judge. In the days before social media and ubiquitous cell phones, covering up such an embarrassing accident could be attempted. Without solid evidence, we could not be sure, but it appeared that the senator’s driving while intoxicated was being covered up by the county sheriff. Sure enough, charges were never brought against the senator by the county’s prosecuting attorney.

    This is just one of the many examples of official chicanery, special treatment and cronyism among elected officials that reporters still see every day. In The Front Page, the officials are portrayed as buffoons, the comic relief. Although this might have been wish fulfillment on the part of former reporters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, who wrote the play, it makes for a highly entertaining comedy of mayhem and laughter.

    The Saint Sebastian Players present The Front Page April 27 to May 20 in the basement of St. Bonaventure Church, 1625 W. Diversey (enter on Marshfield just west of Ashland) in Chicago, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. For more information, visit saintsebastianplayers.org or call 773-404-7922.

    (Members can comment by clicking on the vertical dots next to the headline.)

    - Russ Gager

    Russ Gager worked as a daily newspaper reporter in Watseka and Kankakee, Illinois—where he had a few scoops of his own—along with the Suburbanite Economist, the South End Reporter and the Blue Island Sun Standard.

  • 06 Apr 2018 1:53 PM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    Alright everybody, back on the bus! We’re about to embark on the second leg of our “IWOC Offers That???” tour, the first having been launched last month (see earlier post), where we discovered 1) a treasure trove of podcasts and handouts from meetings past, and 2) a “Letter of Agreement” template that can sure come in handy, especially when negotiating with a first-time client. Chomping at the bit to find out what else IWOC offers that may have escaped your notice? Let’s roll.

    First stop: The Rate Survey. Let’s admit it. Finding out what other writers charge is one of our guilty pleasures. Aren’t you dying to know, say, what journalists are paid for writing a magazine article? What is the going rate for writing a brochure, or radio spot? And white papers: how much does one get for writing those? Our juicy Rate Survey has all the answers, gleaned from IWOC member participants. Why would anyone want to know such stats, other than unabashed curiosity? For one thing, they provide you with a reference point when you’re trying to determine what you should charge for a particular project. You don’t want to price yourself out of the market. Then again, you want to be paid what you’re worth. IWOC’s Rate Survey is invaluable in helping you confidently establish your own rates.

    Next stop: Our “Find a Mentor” Program. Wait, what? There’s a Mentor Program? When did this happen? Oh, about a year ago, when we finally got the hint after being asked at every turn, “Does IWOC provide mentoring?” I can now answer not only with a resounding “Yes!”, but that we currently have 17 members representing writing disciplines from across the board, who are eager to share their expertise and knowledge. And the beauty of it is, mentoring works both ways: Whether you get a charge out of taking someone under your wing and imparting your hard-fought wisdom – or if you wish to be mentored and have some of that wisdom imparted to you, our Mentoring Program is a win-win. For everyone. 

    Gonna let you off the bus right here so you can nose around the sites on your own – all located under the “For Members” tab. If you haven’t joined IWOC yet, do it! And start getting access to the above benefits and then some!

    See you next time...when I point out even more “IWOC Offers That???” attractions.

    Happy exploring!

    (Members can comment by clicking on the vertical dots next to the headline.)

    - Laura Stigler

  • 06 Apr 2018 1:02 PM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    The Perfect Pitch . . .

    Are we talking about musical ability? If so, having perfect pitch causes extreme anguish when the gifted one encounters a slightly off-pitch note.

    How about Pitchers in the game of baseball?

    image courtesy of vectorolie at freedigitalphotos.net

    I'm laughing to myself, because anyone who understands me, knows I am NOT into sports. I don't play them. I don't watch them. In school, I was the proverbial 'last one to be picked on a team' because I had two left feet. And I was extremely timid. Competition is NOT in my nature, and I hate to let people down

    Could we possibly be talking about a Writer's Pitch?

    Sounds about write right. Here's my "Vickipedia" version (I used my middle name as a child):

    "to toss out quickly, in one or two tight sentences with a "hook"; the simple summary of a book or article which piques the editor's interest, causing the work to be considered for publication."

    I have found that there are similarities between a writer's and baseball PITCH.

    I asked my husband, a White Sox Fan(his Mom is a Cub's Fanabout the pitcher's position and responsibility. Here is what I gleaned:

    • Premier Pitchers are difficult to find: Perfect writer's pitches are not the norm.
    • Pitchers and catchers work closely together: The author/agent or author/editor relationship takes teamwork.
    • Good pitching always trumps good hitting: A good story may not be considered if the pitch is not “catchy."

    Then, let's compare the types of pitches:

    • Fast ball:straight down the middle. -Pitch your story straight. Don't get off on a tangent.
    • Curve ball:puts spin on the ball that is unexpected by the hitter. -The first sentence "hooks" the reader into wanting more.
    • Screwball:curves the opposite way than is expected. -The pitch doesn't clearly explain the gist of the story.
    • Knuckle ball:no spin; unpredictable. -The wording of the pitch is unclear and/or uninteresting. The reader has a difficult time connecting.
    • Sinker ball:drops to ground; tough to hit. -Pitch is not ready for prime time.

    So why the reference to baseball?

    'Tis the season!

    Not only for baseball, but for writer's conferences. Is your pitch ready for the big time?

    You be the judge. Well, the umpire, in this case.

    Try these pitching tips from the experts:

    Secrets of a Great Pitch

    Perfect Pitch

    How to talk with Publishers and Agents

    Thanks for being a good sport . . .

    Now, PLAY BALL!

    (Members can comment by clicking on the vertical dots next to the headline.)

    - Jarmila V. Del Boccio

    Jarm finds her inspiration in everyday life, but in particular, when she travels the globe, observing the quirky things that happen along the way. You can learn about those experiences and her author’s journey in her blog, Making the Write Connections.
  • 04 Apr 2018 9:48 AM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    In the 1980s when Japanese carmakers began devouring the lunch of America's Big Three, talking heads often yammered on contrasts between corporate culture in the U.S. and Japan. They reported many U.S. companies planned about as far ahead as the next earnings report. Japan's companies planned further into the future. 

    How much further? Toyota was found to have a 100-year plan.

    The realm of freelancing serves intriguing parallels. Many freelancers silo each assignment, seeking the biggest payoff for the labor expended on that one gig, then seeking another client for the next, and so on. The client is viewed as a stingy antagonist. No surprise: The need to reinvent the wheel every time leaves them with scads of unbillable hours.

    Freelancers who routinely savor steadier work, however, strive toward building long-term client rapport. They find the work itself taxing enough, and prefer avoiding the time-consuming added steps of finding new clients to furnish each new project. Here are a few thoughts on building longer-term client relationships:

    • Don't focus on extracting every last dime from a current project. Dwell on how much more you'll gain over time with a fair price and a happy client assigning regularly.
    • Give clients the sense you're on their team, seeking the same goals.
    • Ask clients what you can do to increase your value to the team.

    Follow these stratagems and you'll likely forge longer rather than shorter client associations.

    That’s the long and short of it.

    (Members can comment by clicking on the dots next to the headline.)

    -- Jeff Steele



  • 03 Apr 2018 6:13 AM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    Although there is a plethora of computer software (mainly Windows) directed to writers and editors, the availability of versions for cell phones is substantially less. In their place, there are some applications that purport to handle some of the same tasks. Whether offered free or at a nominal charge, these apps can be functional even though limited by small-size screens. Also, to validate their usefulness, several from independent programmers are compatible with programs installed on computers even though using a different operating system.

    Here are a few that have actually been put to use by this writer and found to be valuable, for example, as supplementary assistants that allow cell phone input to be copied to content in work on a computer. These are Android-based apps designed to integrate mainly with Microsoft ‘s Office but also may allow copying via the universal .txt format. There might also be versions for Apple’s iOS phones that are identically or similarly named.

    Olive Office Premium: It’s something of a partner to MS Word documents (.doc and .docx), Excel spreadsheets .xls and .xlsx), and PowerPoint presentations. Permits editing and saving and also allows reading PDF files. Another application feature is full support for Google Drive.

    Writer Plus: Ideal for on-the-go note-taking, it’s an upgraded version of the Writer program by James McMinnin that acts like a simplified word processor . You can open, edit, and save any content you create. Provides both character and word count and supports keyboard shortcuts.

    CamScanner and PDF Creator: Will scan and share document content. Will read text in a PDF along with search and editing capabilities. Can convert to PDF and allow for cloud storage. Opt for upgrade to Business version after installation to create folders and permit group sharing.

    Speech-to-Text and Text-to-Speech: An effective tool for any writer, it offers a high level of conversion accuracy. Has auto-correction, permits copying and sharing. Easy to delete errors. Is supposed to work offline as well but that feature is dependent on cell phone model and settings.

    Gboard (Google Keyboard): This is just one of several available keyboards from various phone vendors that provides speech-to-text convenience. Corrections can be made manually on the virtual keyboard. Usable for documents, e-mail, and other applications requiring typing.

    Merriam-Webster Premium: This upgrade to the free version of the dictionary includes a thesaurus, antonyms and synonyms, and voice search. Offline access provides for definitions (200,000 words) and synonyms. Another feature is non-computerized audio pronunciation.

    - Richard Eastline

  • 20 Mar 2018 9:09 PM | Laura Stigler (Administrator)

    As writers, we all have a natural tendency to be word nerds. That being the case, I thought you might get a particular charge out of this article published on LinkedIn. It's about "buzzwords" (and buzz phrases) -- and how the over usage of such can make us look, hmm... a bit less intellectual than we imagine ourselves to be. Guilty as charged! Some of my personal favorites are: "That said," "above my pay grade" and "zero sum game." And oh yes, "that being the case." I often use those as filler, thinking they make me look rather intelligent. Guess I was wrong.

    What are your verbal crutches? Do share in the comment section. I need some new "filler." 

    (Members can comment by clicking on the dots next to the headline.) 

    -- Laura Stigler

    25 Buzzwords That Make Smart People Look Stupid by Dr.Travis Bradberry

     


  • 12 Mar 2018 10:17 PM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    There are some Chicagoans (probably thousands) who have never been to the top of the Sears-I- refuse-to-call-it-Willis Tower. By the same token, there are some IWOC-ers (probably thousands?) who've never really explored IWOC'S website - never so much as taken a peek to see all the benefits and hidden jewels available.

    I can jump to such an assumption because more than once, IWOC members have approached me in a panic, not knowing what to do in various circumstances. ("Oh no! I can't make the meeting!" or "I've no idea how to write a contract!")

    This has occurred often enough that it leaves me no recourse. Time to put on my Tour Guide hat and for the next few blog posts, show you around some not-to-be-missed IWOC attractions that exist on the "Member Resources" page of our website. My hope is that it will turn you into a regular visitor, a place you frequent often when looking for answers or inspiration. A place about which you can tell all your friends and fellow members. A place that in the professional sense, will make you proud enough to call IWOC "home."

    So let us begin, shall we?

    First stop: The Meeting Podcasts. Believe it or not, many members have no idea that we offer them. It's one of the greatest benefits of being an IWOC member, because come rain or snow, flu or work overflow, the podcasts mean you never have to miss a meeting. All the information and any handouts or PowerPoint presentations are right there, to be listened to and viewed while staying in your jammies. (I can hear you "ooo-ing" and "ahh-ing" already!)

    Next stop: The Contract Link. Or more specifically, the "Letter of Agreement" Link. As Samuel Goldwyn once said, "An oral contract isn't worth the paper it's written on." So true. Coming to terms with clients when discussing the scope and cost of a project will go a lot smoother when you have it in writing. This Letter Of Agreement is ready for downloading, offering both you and your client a point of reference and peace of mind.

    I'm going to let you off the bus now. Feel free to check out the above and maybe even make discoveries I might not be aware of. Share them in the comment section!

    Meet you back here in a couple of weeks, when I'll show you some more "IWOC offers that???" highlights.

    Happy exploring!

    - Laura Stigler

    (Members can comment by clicking on the dots next to the headline.) 

  • 18 Feb 2018 6:15 PM | Laura Stigler (Administrator)

    It just so happens more and more job ops are trending towards the “gig economy” direction. Currently, the U.S. workforce is made up of 35% freelancers. That number is projected to expand to 43% by 2020! Got these stats from “How to Figure out What Your Side Hustle Should Be,” an article in the Harvard Business Review that you’re bound to find encouraging... especially if you’re starting out as or would like to be an independent contractor.

    It also offers some terrific, common sense pointers—many of which we just happen to cover in our “Life in the Freelance Lane” talks we’ve been giving at libraries across Chicagoland. Here's the link: https://hbr.org/2018/01/how-to-figure-out-what-your-side-hustle-should-be

    (Members can comment by clicking on the dots next to the headline.) 

  • 03 Feb 2018 7:24 PM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    Maybe ChicagoNow is right for your blog

    At our November IWOC meeting, Scott Winterroth of Content Academy said something about using WordPress that made me feel really good: WordPress was developed to make work easier for web professionals. It was not developed to enable all of us to single handedly create our own websites and blogs.

    I felt guilty . . .

    Winterroth made me feel good because I had been feeling guilty. My personal WordPress website had some obvious flaws, but I did not care to learn how to remedy them on my own. 

    I probably could if I worked hard enough. However, I would be investing considerable time in improving my own website / blog but without the inclination or market to justify my time investment by taking on paying work.

    I looked into hiring someone to do the work for me.

    A freelancer friend gave me the answer: ChicagoNow.com.

    It seemed that everyone either charged a substantial amount per hour or would only undertake web work if it was a total re-do with a fee in the thousands of dollars.

    So, I put it on the back burner, somewhat embarrassed by website flaws but too cheap to do anything about them.

    Eventually I found another reason not to put money in my online presence. I have decided to be more selective about freelancing in favor of more blogging simply because I feel like it.

    How to do my unmonetized blog without spending any money?

    A freelancer friend gave me the answer: ChicagoNow.com.

    ChicagoNow was created by the Chicago Tribune Media Group. As the FAQs explain, "Chicago Tribune content is produced by journalists; ChicagoNow content is produced by the communities that make up the site."

    The program was run by phenomenal community manager Jimmy Greenfield since its inception nine years ago. He recently left for a new opportunity with the Trib, and Matt Schwerha has taken over. (He is great too.) He reviews applications and approves bloggers for participation, sets up the blogs, and provides technical assistance, including phone help, promptly and for free.

    Participation is open to Chicago-area writers writing on any subject and to those outside the area writing on a Chicago-oriented topic.

    Some blogs are on a highly specific topic, for instance, local horseracing or quilting. Others are on business topics, political issues or other broad themes. Yet others are on any topic that strikes the writer's fancy.

    There's no required frequency. Some blog daily, others monthly or even less frequently.

    The one thing these blogs have in common is excellence. All show signs of thought and editing. While the blogs are not monetized, tasteful marketing of your freelance practice or other business is allowed.

    The program is much more impressive than what is described to the public on the website.

    There's a closed Facebook group where community members can discuss issues of all types. There's a program to recognize best posts for the month. A free bowling league is running this season.

    Another plus: ChicagoNow has Google juice. As of January 31, its global rank is 45,372 and its U.S. rank is 13,337.

    To determine a website's rank, go to Alexa.com. The page should say "Find website traffic, statistics, and analytics." Key in website of interest where it says "Enter a website." (This is at top of page directly under "Find website traffic.") Click "find." The lower the number, the higher the rank. (Google is number one, followed by YouTube.)

    All is not roses. Apparently, the group has had a sponsored holiday party in the past. In 2017, however, there was no budget and it didn't happen.

    Before signing up, look at the restrictions. One is that you must avoid duplicate content by not posting your full ChicagoNow post on other websites.

    I'm a newbie. My first post went live on October 22. Here's my blog: http://www.chicagonow.com/girl-born-in-51/

    I'm really enjoying this, especially the technical help when I run into a snag. Maybe it's right for you as well.

    (Members can comment by clicking on the dots next to the headline.) 

    - Diana Schneidman

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

  • 03 Feb 2018 6:36 PM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    IWOC's Got a Brand New Blog!

    So what the heck is going on here? What happened to our venerable Stet Newsletter that has been a staple of IWOC ever since its inception?

    Simply this: With survey results in tow, the Board has decided our members would best be served by morphing Stet into an up-to-the-minute, living, breathing, interactive blog. Personally, I'm agog. Because as captivating as all of Stet's previous incarnations were (and they were captivating, from the original hard-copy form, to the PDF's, to the e-newsletters), the Stet Blog will now be offering you more...

    More interaction

    All readers are welcome of course. But if you're a member, you'll have the opportunity to get your voice heard. Wish to sound off on some scathingly brilliant observation on IWOC, writing, freelancing? Whatever you believe would be relevant to writers, post it! Or...

    Say you want to opine on one of the postings here. See those ellipses in the upper left corner by the post's headline? Click on that and "Add comment," and opine away!

    More information

    We'll always inform you about the latest goings-on on with your beloved IWOC. Beyond that, maybe you'd like to write a review on a recently read book. Or gush about a time-saving app you can't live without. And should you come across a fascinating writer-related article you've seen elsewhere, do share it with your fellow scribes merely by posting the link here.

    More member news

    What's new with you? Consider the Stet Blog as a members' megaphone: Just been published? Staging a reading of your works? Conducting a seminar? Whatever career- or ego- boosting news you're itching to announce, brag about it on the blog. You've earned it!

    One caveat

    The Stet Blog can only be as good as its participants. To be sure, there will always be something to read, whether it's coming from yours truly, Stet Blog Editor Cynthia Tomusiak, or any one of our regular contributors. Even so, the more you're involved, be it with postings, comments or news, the better the blog will be. Because if there's one thing we IWOC'ers should never tolerate, it's a blah blog.

    (To partake in this intellectual playground, please email all posts to Cynthia for review. Thoughts about this posting? Members can comment by clicking on the dots next to the headline.) 

    - Laura Stigler

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