Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Roanoke Regional Writers Conference

(The Highlights)

Saturday I attended the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference at the Jefferson Center. Approximately a hundred other writers attended sessions led by writing professionals in the Roanoke area. Organized by Dan Smith (editor of the Blue Ridge Business Journal), the conference offered something for poets, fiction writers, and freelancers—plus it provided an opportunity to network with fellow writers.

My only regret is that I couldn’t attend all the sessions—only six of the twenty or so offered. I But I learned a lot from the ones I did attend. Telling about all the sessions would make for a long blog post, so I’ll give the highlights from the two that addressed freelance writing.

Cara Modisett, editor of Blue Ridge Country, told those attending “What Magazine Editors Want” that regional magazines are great places for writers to start. These magazines “celebrate small stories”—what isn’t mainstream. The most important person in a regional story, she emphasized, is not the writer, but the reader. She looks for writers who know the readers of Blue Ridge Country—mostly older, retired women.

She listed some valuable tips for pitching an article idea to a magazine:
  • Know the readers and the magazine.
  • Know the anatomy of a magazine, the sections it contains.
  • Every editor looks for something different, but it's a good idea to start with short pieces (100--300 words).
  • Follow the guidelines. Many editors prefer a pitch or a query instead of a submission.
  • Plan your pitch. Your cover letter should include where you’ve been published and the pitch for your main story. Include a couple of clips of stories close to the kind of story you’re pitching.
  • Know a magazine’s time-line. Pitch early; it might be a year before your article is published.
  • Support your work. Photography is a plus.
  • Write well and fact check.
  • Be original. Blue Ridge Country buys first North American Rights and one-time photo rights.
  • Pay attention to the tone of the magazine and to the lead—how a typical article starts, the length of quotations, tense (Blue Ridge Country stories are in the present tense), voice, transitions, etc.
  • Pay attention to sidebars.
  • Don’t over-write. Write short rather than long. (Blue Ridge Country wants a 50-50 photo ratio.)
  • The story isn’t all about you. No matter how short the story is Blue Ridge Country wants another voice: quotes. When getting quotes, use live interviews rather than email. Email quotes sound stilted. The best interview is a conversation. (The writer can provide the who/where/what, but the whys and hows make the best quotes.)
  • Editors don’t want stories that sound like press releases, so avoid the second person point-of-view. Don’t question the reader, either—show and tell instead.
  • A travel piece isn’t about place; it’s about people. Follow side-roads and talk to people. Share history.

Modisett likes the initial query (with clips) snail-mailed; otherwise email is fine.

Gene Marrano, editor of the Cave Spring Connection and the Vinton Messenger, host of WVTF’s Studio Virginia, and freelance writer for several local publications, spoke about “Freelance Writing in This Region” Freelance writing in this area “won’t pay the rent” because “Roanoke is a small pie and everyone is slicing it up.” He suggested that freelancers have a variety of interests to write about and be willing to adapt to a variety of things. He listed some local magazine/newspapers that pay, such as the Main Street Newspapers (Cave Spring Connection, Vinton Messenger), Bella, City, Venues and the new weekly, The Roanoke Star Sentinel. Pay for local publications runs from $35—$100 (not enough to pay the rent!). He related his experiences and how he learned on the job by working his way up in local publishing and broadcasting. Even though he edits two weeklies, he still freelances for several other publications. Naturally, he stressed the importance of time management.

Some of Marrano’s hints:
  • “If you’re going to write about family, there has to be a universal truth.” Otherwise no one cares what your kids do.
  • “Celebrate the small stories.”
  • The tone of a magazine reflects the tone of the editor.
  • Be on time for your deadline.
  • Take decent pictures that you can submit with your story. Most local publications prefer a submission accompanied by a picture.
Both Marrano and Modisett told many of us freelancers valuable stuff we need to know.

If you aspire to write for pay, conferences are one way for you to learn what you need to know. The Roanoke Regional Writers Conference told a lot of us what we needed to know.

I hope it will be an annual event.



Blogger Amy Hanek said...

As usual, great information Becky! Thanks for blogging this for anyone that could not attend (myself included).

1:03 PM  
Blogger Amy Tate said...

Interesting. Were there any local fiction or poetry writers in attendance? Great information!

5:47 PM  
Blogger Bellaring said...

Becky, as usual, shared some very important tips. From another Amy!

10:53 AM  
Blogger CountryDew said...

Good summation, Becky. Sounds like you attended the better classes! I loved Sharon McCrumb but missed the other two you wrote about. They sound better than some I was in. I hope you had a good time. P.S. I tagged you for a meme. I don't know if you do them but there you go.

6:44 PM  

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