For the past 70 years, independent nonfiction writers have looked to the American Society of Journalists and Authors for camaraderie and professional opportunity. Members are professional freelance writers who specialize in magazine articles, trade books, and other nonfiction genres. However, you don’t have to be a member to attend the variety of ASJA-sponsored conferences each year.
Joanne Y. Cleaver works as the volunteer development chair for the ASJA Educational Foundation, which oversees the organization’s conferences, including the annual New York City gathering, May 18-19 in 2018.
Designed to empower emerging and established journalists and nonfiction writers, conference panels and workshops focus on craft and practical advice. Keynote speakers address how to sell a project in a one-sentence pitch, find new venues for one’s writing, and maximize individual strengths and experiences.
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“ASJA’s New York conference is renowned for introducing top freelance talent to top editors and agents,” Cleaver says. “In fact, that’s how I landed my own agent, who landed me my most recent book, The Career Lattice.”
What you’ll learn at the ASJA conference
Five years ago, Cleaver pioneered Content Connections – a one-day regional conference which focuses on content marketing trends and editorial freelancing opportunities. In November 2017, ASJA’s Chicago-based Content Connections conference workshops included “Ten Ways to Transition to Freelancing and Start Strong,” “Staff to Freelance: Five Steps that Win Clients and Ease Cashflow,” and “Tales from the Trenches: What New Freelancers Do Wrong and How to Recover.” The one-day ASJA regional conference in Austin, Texas, on Feb. 3, 2018, will focus on freelancing for tech and healthcare publications.
Cleaver suggests that freelancers new to the business sign up for speed mentoring sessions during ASJA conferences. “You can bring your embarrassing newbie questions, even your query letters, for comment from experienced freelancers,” she explains. “This is where you can find out how to follow up with [an] editor or potential clients without being a pest; how to present particular types of expertise; and how to become confident with managing clients.”
Featured presenters at past ASJA conferences
Keynotes for the 2017 New York City conference included multimedia journalist and author Andrea King Collier, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Vanessa Hua, career and business strategist Jenny Blake, and award-winning producer and director Lane Shefter Bishop.
The 2017 Content Connections conference in Chicago, prefaced by a daylong ASJA workshop on ghostwriting, featured Matt Heusser teaching writers how to attract and keep clients and Deb Gordon explaining how to maximize income with one’s current clients. Leah Nicholson spoke about how to find and build relationships with clients as a ghostwriter. A pitch slam allowed attendees to solicit immediate feedback on a project from both authors and clients.
Advice for first-timers at ASJA
Cleaver suggests that experienced writers consider joining ASJA before attending the New York conference to take full advantage of members’ day, which offers in-depth skill-building sessions. “And only ASJA members may participate in Client Connections at all conferences, [which is] the matched speed-dating format for introductions to clients and editors keen to find qualified editorial freelancers with specific skills,” she says.
All writers can network in advance of any ASJA conference on the organization’s Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn feeds. “If you virtually meet someone whose experience and interests align with yours, ask to join them for lunch or coffee at the conference,” Cleaver says. “Even better, make a small group of it!”
She urges freelancers to make the most of their own skills and experiences when networking, virtually and in person. “Who you are, your life experiences, your relationships, are all context for assignments that help you create an interesting array of work,” she explains. As an example, Cleaver points to the 2016 regional conference in Atlanta, when she met an editor from Arthritis Today.
“I have mild rheumatoid arthritis and have endured joint replacement, so I am their target reader. But I only had a couple of ideas to pitch,” she says. “Turns out, a light touch was what he wanted for a feature on how to ‘talk TSA’ when trying to get your titanium joints through a security scanner.”
Cleaver now writes for every issue of the magazine. “You never know what editors and clients want…until you find out where they’re headed,” she concludes. “And you just might be the writer to help them get there.”
Dates: Write in the Heart of Austin, Texas, Feb. 3, 2018; Annual Conference in New York City, May 18-19, 2018.
Cost: From $139
Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of two memoirs and the middle-grade novel Avenging the Owl. She’s an editor/consultant at Creator & Collector Services. Web: melissahart.com.
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