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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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  • 13 Aug 2018 4:29 PM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    IWOC’s Board of Directors is sad to announce the death of former member Karolus Smejda.

    Karolus attended our last holiday party and was most recently at our July meeting. Many long-term members will remember Karolus, who was the founder and president of PowerSuasion, Inc., a company that improved work performance through custom interactive communications learning using actor-based and technology-based platforms. He also presented workshops for IWOC.

    Karolus had many friends and provided them with countless sweet memories. Please forward your thoughts and stories of Karolus to StetBlog administrator Cynthia Tomusiak, who will then post it here on the Blog. You may also leave a comment by clicking on the vertical dots next to the headline.

  • 09 Aug 2018 10:20 AM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    Believe it or not, IWOC is not secretly run by a chipper group of gerbils perpetually scurrying on a treadmill. It actually takes people to keep this beloved organization going – people like...you! Wait! Wait! – please don’t turn away. It’s not hard work, really. But the more people who volunteer – even by doing just a little bit, the easier it is for everyone. And the more beneficial to IWOC (and you) at large. So I’ve three quick ways members can get involved that won’t require a lot of time, yet can reap maximum rewards. :

    1) NominateWho would you like to see on the Board of Directors? Whose ideas, creativity, energy, street smarts and just all-around get-along personality do you believe would serve IWOC well? If you know someone, do tell. And if that name happens to be yours, that would be the best of all!

    2) Why run? It’s fun! And that’s not just fake news. Serving on the Board is not the time-consuming drudgery one fears. It is fun. The time commitment is nominal. Plus, you’ve got the bully pulpit for presenting your ideas, bringing them to fruition, and creating the IWOC “of your dreams” – which could help your own career as well as those of your fellow IWOC’ers. (Caveat: you have to be a member for one year to serve.)

    Or...

    3) Commit to a Committee. Maybe this would be more up your alley. Choose a Committee that jibes with your interests, skills or desires. There’s one for Membership, Programming, Public Relations, Social Media, Stet Blog, the Website...or form a new Committee altogether. It’s pretty amazing how by simply getting involved this way can boost your confidence, your enjoyment level – and your cachet on your résumé.

    We all have a stake in this organization. There is a reason you joined IWOC (or may want to), whether it’s to get more work, learn more about the business and craft of writing, networking ops, or just getting out of your writer’s lair to meet new like-minded friends. But keeping IWOC beneficial, relevant, and vibrant doesn’t happen by magic. (Or gerbils.) It needs members getting involved.

    So if you’re interested in any of the above, please contact one of our Nominating Committee members: Alicia Dale, Jeff Steele or yours truly.

    Not a member? Become one! And start taking advantage of all the benefits that members enjoy.

    - Laura Stigler

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

  • 09 Aug 2018 10:08 AM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    In today’s written word environment, one readily gets the impression that grammar—and especially punctuation, its mechanical component—seems destined for oblivion. Even with the trend toward brief communications, boundless opportunities arise for criminal assaults on the objective of clarity in expression. And possibly the most frequent victim of abuse is the comma. There seems to be an ongoing acceptance (most of the time) as to where a period belongs. But when it comes to placing a comma, anything goes. For instance, check out a yard sign that offered “Dog,s for Sale.” Is a plural of the noun intended or could it be that a comma is replacing an apostrophe, If so, then a word relating to dog is missing and I hesitate to contemplate the options.

    Possibly the most arguable circumstance involves what is known as the “serial comma,” or the use of a comma in a series of related words. Should it be “black, brown, and yellow” or “black, brown and yellow”? Self-appointed grammar police will insist that the comma is necessary so as to define the phrase as containing three separate colors. Without it being present—they claim–-a reader could assume that there are just two colors, one being black and the other a brownish yellow. “Picky, picky” retorts the opposition. There’s no confusion because if the second color were a blend, why then you’d use a hyphen. But that procedure introduces yet another punctuation mark—the hyphen—and who would ever want to complicate the issue all the more? The best approach may be to just do whichever you want and go on with your life.

    Still another trap comes with what could be termed the “expository addition.” Loosely, it refers to the insertion of a phrase or clause that qualifies or identifies or simply adds information to an otherwise complete sentence. As an example: “John Smith, a protagonist also called Ralph, is a major role.” Using commas to set off the explanatory note is considered standard style. Suppose you are uncertain. Simple solution is to take another approach—use parentheses. Now you have “John Smith (a protagonist also called Ralph) is a major role.” It’s the coward’s way out.

    And let’s not forget the simple direct object vs. a command attached to the recipient of that command. A comma makes all the difference. Really? The following pair of identical word commands do not mean the same when one has a comma and the other omits it:. “Let’s eat, Grandma!” and “Let’s eat Grandma!” In the second instance, we encounter a child with a most peculiar culinary preference. Moral of the story—disregard commas at your own peril.

    All in all, the mysteries of the comma are not mysterious at all. We seem to be caught in a trap of our own making. There is some notice of a growing condition for having too many or too few commas within the contents of a page or even a paragraph. Some writers tend to sprinkle them profusely throughout their text. Perhaps it’s a sense of it being better to have more to spare than to not have enough. However, either choice is wrong. Even in this day of hyper-technology, sorry to say, there is no formula or algorhythm to advise how many commas per chunk of words you need. Tough, but the old-fashioned way of doing it manually “by the book” is really worth a try.

    - Richard Eastline

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

  • 09 Aug 2018 9:48 AM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    So just how does a fledging author use a podcast to promote his or her book and gain a wide readership and listenership?

    By providing his or her viewers and fans “value” and “do the work that others aren’t willing to do,” said Bryan Cohen, co-host of the “Sell More Books” podcast series and Chicago Improv actor, Tuesday, July 10 during a IWOC workshop at the Gratz Center of the Fourth Presbyterian Church downtown.

    Some of his advice:

    • Cater to your target audience.
    • Lock in your routine, no matter what.
    • Partner smart and defend your roles.
    • Use a formula but be willing to give listeners what they don’t have but want.

    Cohen promoted and sold one million copies of his vampire novel and had 600,000 downloads of his book.

    For Cohen, it all started in 2014 when he attended multi-author Facebook events. During the events, he said he connected with an influencer on Facebook who posted about podcasting.

    Cohen explained that he learned “how to decide on a podcast format, how to know and connect” with his audience, how to share a podcast with a co-host and how to “enrich” his “show overtime.”

    To choose subjects to discuss, Cohen said authors must “figure out” their “niche within a niche is,” do what other authors don’t want to do, keep track of staff and offer news about publishing or other relevant topics. 

    “You want to be their routines,” he said of writers’ potential audiences.

    An expert could be called upon to speak during his podcast show. Authors with questions and experts would speak individually.

    The duo would also recap the top five news developments germane to authoring and publishing.

    “I hunted down the news and compressed it myself,” Cohen said. “Others weren’t willing to spend” the time, money or resources needed to do so for their own podcasts. His show would last 25 minutes.

    For software to enable production and promotion of the show, they would use Audacity recorder, a Skype account, Instagram and Zoom.

    Cohen said “the show has never taken a week off.” Since “about episode 75, the show has always come out at the exact same time” he added, a practice he advised for IWOC-ers considering creating a podcast.

    He also recommended freelancers to “partner with somebody who has something you don’t.”

    For example, Cohen said of himself and his teammate: “I do the work. He does the comments.”

    When asked by an IWOC-er about costs, Cohen said he and his co-host spend $12 to $15 a month to maintain the podcast. Taking on an IWOC-er’s question about making money, he replied that he generated revenue by writing book descriptions and posting them on the podcast’s website.

    “You’re doing it right when listeners say ‘Thank you for everything,’” Cohen said.

    For more about Cohen, the podcast and the IWOC workshop, be sure to tune at iwoc.org, visit the show’s website at SellMoreBooksShow.com and e-mail him at bryan@sellingforauthors.com.

    - Vladimire Herard

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

  • 14 Jul 2018 9:55 AM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    I just wrote about Courageous Content Marketing and now I get an opportunity to showcase an example of Content Marketing being done really well.

    Content Marketing means that you share information of value with your community for no other reason but to share relevant information and strengthen relationships. This entire concept is continually on full display at the free Small Business workshops offered by Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP). “Media Training for Small Business” was one of the workshops I recently attended, presented by Lilia Chacon, currently BACP’s Director of Information. (However, I recognized her from her previous role as a Fox News Anchor.) Chicago is in the midst of a transformation. It's great to see some authentic support of Small Business Owners with their Chicago Business Affairs and Consumer Protection education series.

    Even Lilia was surprised at the sizable crowd that showed up on the Friday of the July 4th Holiday week. There were over 50 people there. I was delighted the diverse group included new business owners, people considering opening businesses and seasoned business owners like me. The vast perspectives and experience created lively and robust conversation.

    Full of Wit and Wisdom and incredibly approachable, Lilia gave us several nuggets of knowledge to consider when learning how to work with the Media as part of our promotion plans. Here are a few:

    "While viewers see an average of 1,000,000 messages a year, there has never been a better time to get your message out there." I must say I've gotta agree with that one – reporters are easily found on Twitter. While publications have a print and online presence, there are several social media options to consider that require no budget or a very nominal one. So if you have a small business and you're not approaching the media, no matter what you do, it's time to seriously reconsider. Lilia added that Chicago, a world class city, gets attention around the world! She specifically mentioned Black Dog Gelato - their Goat Cheese Cashew Carmel flavor is inspired. I. cannot. walk. by. it. Anyway, Lilia pointed out that we are seeing their name everywhere - and it's true. If an ice cream shop can do it . . .

    She helped us to understand how to control our media image and how to minimize being misquoted. "Speak in memorable sound bites." Here's mine, one I created after listening to Lilia, "I know a little bit about a lot of things, which enables me to write about many things."

    When you are in a tough spot, or asked tough questions, revert back to a memorable statement that diverts the conversation and brings you back to your core message. Example: "I don't know much about . . . but here's what I do know: (insert memorable, easily repeatable message)”.

    Lastly, she said what we all know: Image counts. Make sure your jacket or shirt fits, especially around the shoulders. Look into the camera. Don't look away or you'll look shifty-eyed and not trustworthy. Draw attention to your face. Keep the camera a little bit higher than eye level. This hold true for videos shot with your camera and posted on Facebook or other social media.

    I'm very happy to report this education series is very well worth 90 minutes of your time – and it's free, compliments of the City. It's easy to pick on all the things that are wrong in Chicago. It's also fun to showcase when we do something right.

    - Alicia Dale

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

  • 06 Jul 2018 9:54 AM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    This is huge. This is, like, red-carpet-klieg-light huge. I can see it all now: big, bold Helvetica headlines rapidly spinning towards us on the silver screen, screaming, “IWOC TAKES ROAD SHOW TO CITY HALL!” and “IWOC TIES DA KNOT WITH DA CITY!” and “CITY TO IWOC: ‘HOWDY, PARDNER!’” What’s all the hubbub about? Lean in and listen:

    For the last three years, IWOC Program Director Jeff Steele and myself, along with a rotating cast of Sally Chapralis, David Steinkraus and George Becht have formed a band of roaming IWOC-ers, traveling to public libraries and various other venues around Chicago and the surrounding ‘burbs, presenting our hit show, “Life in the Freelance Lane: Business Basics for Succeeding in the Gig Economy.” Sometimes the audience has been “intimate.” Sometimes SRO. But in every case, it has been greeted with hearty applause and heartfelt gratitude for providing what attendees have exclaimed was tried-and-true, inspirational, common sense, real world advice. The Q&A’s have always been lively, and best of all, several attendees have been moved enough to join IWOC. Nothing could be more rewarding. And apparently, it’s paying off in other ways. Big time:

    IWOC has just been invited to partner with the City of Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs & Consumer Protection (BACP), where we will be included in their roster of Business Education Workshops offered for free at City Hall – a venue that can be considered akin to what Broadway is to the theater circuit. In the business arena, this is putting us center stage. We have arrived! Our first workshop will be on Wednesday, August 29.

    Add this to the fact that on Tuesday, August 21, we will be presenting LIFL at the empowering Career Transitions Center of Chicago – a connection for which we must extend our deep gratitude to Alicia Dale, who in just her 10 months since joining IWOC has proven herself to be a force of nature. She also was a great influencer in helping us get the gig at City Hall. Alicia, by the way, first encountered IWOC at a LIFL presentation at the cozy KibbitzNest. It was kismet for both Alicia and IWOC, as we are feeding off each other’s energy and enthusiasm to produce great things.

    So “Bravo!” to all involved. What’s good for IWOC is what’s good for the members. And what’s good for the members is good for all our careers.

    And now...on with the show!

    - Laura Stigler

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

  • 06 Jul 2018 9:35 AM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    As an author, It's not easy to find different ways of marketing your book. When my YA (Young Adult) fantasy thriller Escape to Clown Town hit the market, I was contacted by Larry Froncek with Voracious Readers Only. There is a much heated debate in the literary world around utilizing services such as this, and doing free giveaways. I purposely limit the amount of free hard copy books that I giveaway. One thing that attracted me to Voracious Readers Only is that you are giving away ebooks so you don't have to eat the cost of getting your book printed. Out of the 20 or so giveaways that I did, one person wrote an Amazon review on Amazon.co.uk. Completely worth it in my opinion!

    Larry Froncek sent around a rather insightful marketing idea that I thought I would share.

    Enjoy!

    Here’s a quick marketing idea you can use right away that costs virtually nothing, has a lot of potential upside, and has almost no downside…

    As a writer, I’m willing to bet you tend to frequent bookstores. I’d even wager that you visit bookstores when you’re on the road visiting friends or family (or for work).

    The next time you’re in a bookstore, find at least one thing about the experience that you enjoyed and remember it, write it down, or email it to yourself on your phone. Things like:

    • A particular member of the staff was friendly, knowledgeable, or helpful.
    • You walked in just to look around and walked out with ten books you didn’t know you needed.
    • The store was well organized.
    • They had an obscure book you haven’t been able to find anywhere else.
    • Their amazing in-store events.
    • The staff recommendations section.
    • Their collection of rare/collectable books.

    Once you’re home, write a letter to the store owner or manager. Print it out on your letterhead or at least include contact info like your name, website, social media usernames, and that you’re an author.

    Put the letter into a 10x13 or 9x12 envelope (large enough so you don't fold the letter) and hand address the envelope (including your return address). Use real postage stamps too! (And of course, mail it!)

    Potential outcomes…

    • You help an employee keep their job or get a promotion.
    • You help build someone’s self-esteem.
    • If they already carry your book, you might get the attention of the store manager or shop owner.
    • You could end up in the employee recommendation section.
    • They might consider stocking your book (if they don’t already).
    • Your letter gets framed and placed on the wall or counter of the store.
    • They post a picture of your letter on one of their social media accounts and tag you.

    Best of all, it’s a very low-cost strategy and you can do it right away.

    Let me know how it goes for you.

    Best,

    Larry Froncek

    VorarciousReadersOnly.com

    - Tephra Miriam

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

  • 06 Jul 2018 9:25 AM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    Years pass before freelance writers master how to brand and market themselves more effectively for more clients, particularly for different types of customers requiring specific formats or specialties.

    Or so she learned after five years of striking it on her own, Jill Fahlgren, executive coaching and founder of the Possible Life, says. Ditto for Alyssa Burns, owner of Alyssa Burns Communications.

    With overlapping lessons learned and ready to share insights with IWOC-ers Tuesday June 12, the duo co-hosted a workshop on “Build Your Brand & Market Yourself to Get More Business” in the Gratz Center of Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan and Chestnut streets downtown.

    In her business, Fahlgren specializes in “developing and strengthening” corporate teams, fostering “career development” and “positive cultures” within workplace settings.

    Meanwhile, Burns focuses on “brand strategy, content writing for print and the Web, issues management, marketing and public relations, media training and key message developments.”

    “I went out on my own [and] learned a lot in the past five years,” Burns said. “I learned how to sell myself … You have to talk about why you’re good.” She adds that she performed on many crisis communications assignments.

    Fahlgren advises freelancers to be their “authentic” selves, find their “objective” in branding and marketing, be prepared to explain “why they are different” from their peers and ponder how “they would like to introduce themselves” to clients. Writers are encouraged to think about this.

    She says she tells her clients to be intentional about how they present themselves as professionals. Many of her customers start their professional relationships with being unsure or unclear as to what separates them from their competitors or the messages they want to deliver about their products or service offerings.

    By highlighting their uniqueness, she said, clients sometimes fear they’re taking a risk or limiting themselves. However, doing so in their branding and marketing campaigns can strengthen their positioning and yield better results.

    Key to establishing a brand and marketing it is “differentiation,” Fahlgren says. The elements of a brand must encompass a freelancer’s interests or passions, she adds. In so doing, writers must leverage their value proposition and experience. They must consider their targets, vision, goals and point of view or POV.

    For instance, Fahlgren says she shares her brand in a 30-second elevator pitch and urges writers to do the same. “Think about one word that can help you,” she said. In her own elevator pitch, she informs potential clients, “My passion is helping people realize their full potential.”

    Burns agrees. “What do you want to be known for?” she said. As part of a freelancer’s overall freelancing image, she suggests writers to be mindful of whether their email addresses come across as professional to prospective clients.”

    “Our emails are our calling cards,” Burns said. “We need to think about our emails.”

    Burns continues that writers must be aware of other aspects of their image before they approach new clients. She cites five top marketing tips she has brainstormed for freelancers to follow when scouting for new business. Listen to the podcast for her tips and the entire presentation!

    - Vladimire Herard

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

  • 06 Jul 2018 9:21 AM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    IWOC member and author Tephra Miriam at the 2018 Printer's Row LitFest, proudly promoting IWOC and the works of IWOC authors -- including her own recently published book for Young Adults, Escape to Clown Town. 

    -  photo by Alicia Dale

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

  • 19 Jun 2018 2:25 PM | Cynthia Tomusiak (Administrator)

    Presented by the Association for Women Journalists, the “Fearless Freelance Pitch Clinic” featured a stellar panel sharing candid tips and tricks to get your ramp up your Freelance Career.

    Photo (L to R Marissa Conrad, @Marissa_Conrad (New York Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, Washingtonian Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler) Adrienne Samuels Gibbs, @AdrienneWrites ‏ (Forbes, Vice, Marie Claire, Chicago, Good, Northwestern, Ebony) Britt Julious @britticisms (New York Times, Women's Health, SPIN, Chicago Tribune) moderated by Kimberly Bellware @bellwak ‏ (Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Vice, BuzzFeed, ChicagoMagazine)

    Last week, as an Event of Interest, IWOC e-blasted its members an invite to “The Fearless Freelance Pitch Clinic,” hosted by the Association for Women Journalists. I couldn’t resist. I had to go. If you couldn't make this two hour session, you missed out . . . the session was overflowing with valuable tips and tricks for anyone interested in embarking on a Freelance Career in Journalism – although several of the tips can apply to freelancers in general. Here's a summary of some Don'ts and Do's shared by the Panel:

    DON'T . . .
    • Misspell your editor's name. Seems simple, but doing so likely sends your pitch right to "trash", no matter how great it is. How can you attest you have attention to detail when. . . well you get it.
    • Spray and pray when pitching ideas. Have focus and developed stories.
    • Overlook less sexy publications. While it's great to have a byline in a readily recognizable publication, trade publications and industry journals often pay more. Not to be overlooked!
    • Abuse Social Media by hounding your contacts, or even worse, asking their friends to intervene. “Could you tell so-and-so to call me?” . . . don't!
    • Let being turned down keep you down. Any pitch can be flipped. Remain confident, know what you are good at. It's your greatest asset after all. While a gentle reminder on Don'ts doesn't hurt, we can all slip when we get lazy, a little fearful or over-confident. It's much more fun (and profitable) to focus on all the things you can DO to launch your Freelance Career. So bookmark this page and take a gander:
    DO . . .
    • Know your story and the publication you're pitching. Have your sources ready or at least accessible and identified so that you can pitch your source. Have a longer list of sources than needed available so you can ensure a quick turnaround time.
    • Seek inspiration on publications to pitch by going to your local library or a Barnes and Noble. Remember your stories can be repurposed with a different angle. Be careful not to pitch the same thing over and over. Instead pitch a story with a unique insight on the same topic, freshening it up for readers and for your source(s). Also remember anything you publish can be repuprosed into a longer story, a podcast or a video. Remember to get rights to any new projects in your agreement.
    • Manage relationships, handle rejection gratefully - they took your call after all. Journalism is a small world. Everyone talks in this business! Nudge and follow up appropriately. Know the difference between aggressive and overly aggressive. You kind of have to feel it. Well-thought out follow ups are so appreciated!
    • Use "Hello" or "Good Morning" if you don't know the editor or how to spell their name. It’s perfectly acceptable.
    • Take work when you're starting out, regardless of what it pays. You'll gain experience . . . and ultimately have good stories to tell.
    • Let your pitch sell you and the story. Don't have a big portfolio to share? The quality of your pitch will tell your story.
    • Learn as much as you can about your publication. Check out the online media kit. Follow the editors on Twitter. Twitter is being used to save time, seek stories and promote opportunities. It's easy!
    • Bring the editor something new if you're trying to break in, especially publications with paywalls.
    • Format Properly Use ALL CAPS in the subject line (note it's a PITCH and if it's TIME SENSITIVE). Add your work in a PDF attachment. Formatting can get funky in email.
    • Ask editors why they rejected your story. They may tell you exactly what you need to do to get the deal next time.

    The Big Question - What to Charge??

    As your portfolio grows, have an idea of what you will charge and what you will accept. Check the anonymous and crowd-sourced Who Pays Writers for rates.

    Why did I start with Don'ts and end with Do's? It's an old training trick. Your audience will remember the last thing you said "don't think of a Pink Elephant." See???

    Instead of that silly image, I'll leave you with the closing comments of the impressive panel. They offered to be accessible to "pay it forward." After you follow this outline and are rocking it, remember as you are reaching the next rung on the ladder to pay it forward too . . . and pull the next struggling Freelancer up behind you.

    - Alicia Dale

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

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