Capitalizing on opportunity means capital for your writing
ONLINE COLUMN: Web Savvy
Published: February 17, 2009
|An editor I once worked for once told me some people wouldn't recognize an opportunity if it slapped them in the head. He said those words as a complaint over budget give and take with the accounting wing of the publication. But this was a wise editor and I took those words to heart. I suppose that comment was the beginning of an approach that ultimately led me to leave a sure paycheck for one I generated myself. It sounds easy—recognizing opportunity. In fact it isn't enough to recognize it. You have to be prepared.|
When I speak to writing groups or classes, I explain that there are certain necessities, besides a computer. For editors who want audio of your interviews as a validation process, you'll need a digital recorder. For phone interviews, you'll need a hands-free headset or earpiece that allows you to type notes or impressions as your subject answers questions. You'll still need that trusty reporter's notebook. If at all possible, if you're a freelancer, it's very helpful to have an acceptable press pass or card or something that identifies you as a writer who has actually published. At minimum try to get an editor to give you a letter of introduction. This will be vital if you plan to do stories about celebrities or politicos.
Another vital tool today is a digital camera that also has video capability. Many times I've snapped a photo that sold in lieu of a story. An example is the great egret photo I took. I'd returned from doing a newspaper story and as I walked to my door, I noticed the egret strutting across my neighbor's lawn. I realized the egret would reach a point parallel to my neighbor's door. I also realized the humorous aspect of the bird's excursion. There was a security sign right by the walkway. I snatched my camera out of the bag and snapped some photos. Within half an hour, I'd sold the photo of my egret visitor to a newspaper. Sometimes making money in this business is so easy it feels wrong.
The great egret appeared to be headed for my neighbor's door. I snapped the photo and sold it half an hour later.
Photo by (First publication: The Florida Times-Union)
Photos are a double bonus. The hundreds I've shot for websites and print publications can be retooled—cropped, snipped or resized—for my blog. I'm careful to always retain rights to my work and to always credit the first publication when a photo or story is recycled.
Persistence pays off
Russell Crowe did a press conferences here in Jacksonville and answered questions. I've written about the actor many times. He's one of the nicest celebs I've ever interviewed.
Photo by (Credit: Kay Day)
There are plum stories that can be hard to get but very worthy. I cover Rugby League here in Florida because my home city of Jacksonville is an international destination for the sport. Our hometown team coach Spinner Howland is a rugby league dynamo who managed to host the first international super league match here in the U.S. I learned through the grapevine that actor Russell Crowe would be coming here for the match. Then I learned there was a press conference planned. I figured local media celebs and some national media would be there. I persisted in getting details and managed to get on the press list by lining up stories with the newspaper, a magazine and a blog. I can't tell you how valuable one single photo of a celebrity is. In addition, there are so many different angles, you can sell multiple stories from an event like this. Planning ahead and staying on top of local news can be a writer's best friend.
|Then there was our chicken. Shortly after the 2004 hurricane season brought four different systems to Florida, a chicken flew over our fence and decided to adopt us. My husband saw another in a long line of his wife's creature rescues. I saw a really cool fowl and lots of copy. I wrote essays and stories. She is the most photographed chicken in Florida, maybe even the U.S. I won two cash awards for stories based on that chicken. So far, by my calculations, I've made about $1,000 because a chicken flew over our fence and we got to know her. |
Same goes for our kumquat tree. I'd written a couple essays for The Christian Science Monitor. It's one of my only Pulitzer-winning clients. So after an editor said nice things about my work, I wanted to write another essay but I couldn't come up with a unique idea that related to gardening, a topic the editors tended to like. So I was having coffee on the deck and my gaze wandered to the kumquat tree my husband bought me after we moved here. I literally jumped from my chair and penned a kumquat essay, using quotes from a grower with a trade association here. The essay was quickly accepted.
These anecdotes are a glimmer into how a freelance writer learns to seize opportunity. It can knock on your door in an exotic manner or it can be static, as in a tree in your yard. The process is a matter of shaping that opportunity into a benefit your client will pay for.
With your physical tools in hand—and they should always be in hand—bear in mind the intangible tools, imagination and creativity. Learning to think in terms of translating common creatures and items into a story someone will read is a milestone on the path to becoming a writer. Capitalizing on opportunity can bring capital to your bank account and to your portfolio.
One editor told me, "I think you could make a story out of anything." He was right. And you can too.
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-Posted Feb. 24, 2009
If you're an author, you already know it's hard to get your book reviewed. Our next Web Savvy looks at author-friendly book reviewers on the Web and gives you tips on how to solicit a review.
Kay B. Day
Florida journalist Kay B. Day has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. The author of two books, she has written for The Christian Science Monitor, United Press International, The Florida Times-Union and Sky News. To read Kay's other Web Savvy columns about writing for the Web, click here.