Amandah Blackwell’s Don’ts and Do’s for Attending Writer’s Conferences

In a couple of weeks, we’re about to bid farewell to 2011 and welcome 2012. For authors and writers, this translates to sorting through the enormous amount of writer’s conferences and choosing a few to attend during the New Year. Before you pack your bags and fly or drive to your destination, read the don’ts and do’s of attending writer’s conferences.

The Don’ts

1. Don’t sit at table with grumpy look on your face. All of us know that writers are ‘supposed to be’ solitary people however, when you’re at a conference, you may want to loosen up.

2. Don’t insult other authors and writers. This is bad business acumen and downright unacceptable. There’s room for all writers.

3. Don’t monopolize editors and publishers. You’re not the only one at the book or writer’s conference. Give your 30-second elevator speech and ask to schedule time with editors, literary agents, and publishers during classes and workshops.

4. Don’t dress sloppy. Like it or not, your appearance is just as important as your manuscript. Iron your clothes and or pack wrinkle-free clothing.

5. Don’t forget to bring your iPad and or laptop.

6. Don’t forget to bring marketing materials such as business cards, postcards, flyers, etc.

7. Don’t forget to participate in classes and workshops. You’re not in elementary or high school anymore. It’s alright to raise your hand. If you give the wrong answer, you’ll survive.

The Do’s

1. You’ve probably heard the phrase “Dress for success” a million times but there is truth to it. If you dress professionally, you’ll feel like a million dollars. Before you attend a writer’s conference purchase new clothes and get your haircut, styled and colored. When you look better, you feel better.

2. Do get over your shyness. You may want to get to the ‘root’ of your shyness and dissolve it. Life’s too short to be afraid to speak up and speak your mind. Walk up to someone you don’t know and say, “Hi! My name is (fill in the blank). It’s nice to meet you. What do you think of the writer’s conference?” It may take you a couple of times but once you do this, you’ll be able to speak to anyone, including your fans.

3. Do send hand written ‘Thank You’ notes to editors, literary agents, and publishers. Remember to ask for a business card.

4. Do network as much as you can. If you want to collaborate with another writer, conferences are the best places to find the ‘right’ writing partner.

5. Do bring paper and pen along with a recorder (if permissible). You never know, there could be a power outage and you may not have time to charge your laptop.

6. Do learn all you can about the publishing process. The more you know the better you’ll become at writing and sending query letters and understanding what agents and publishers want.

7. Do prepare a list of questions. When it’s time for the panel discussion, be prepared to ask your questions. Do your homework and learn all you can about the conference, panel, etc. Know before you go!


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Freelance Writer Dotted I’s and Crossed T’s: Query Letter Still Needs Work

I, the freelance writer, was thrilled to hear from the editor at a consumer magazine I recently queried. Unfortunately, he wasn’t interested in general interest stories, unless, of course, it’s an angle that hasn’t been covered over and over again. He also rarely accepts unsolicited queries. Needless to say, I was extremely disappointed. I reviewed ALL of the information that was posted on Writer’s Market before I submitted my query. According to Writer’s Market, “the publication needs expose; general interest and new product articles.” This wasn’t entirely true.

Before I submit a query, I review a publication’s website along with current and back issues (where available). I didn’t see an article with my angle on the website. However, the editor informed me that the angle I pitched was already covered in the ‘hard copy’ of the publication. I would have known this if I went to the library and read back issues of the magazine. Lesson learned.

I subscribed to Writer’s Market because I want to grow my portfolio, especially in the area of consumers’ magazines. I have many article ideas that I’m passionate about and would benefit readers. The listings on Writer’s Market make it easy for freelance writers to find publications to query. However, freelance writers shouldn’t assume the information is 100% accurate. It pays to dig deeper to ensure you know exactly the types of stories an editor needs and wants.

Steps freelance writers can do before querying publications

1. Read current and back issues of a publication in addition to reviewing their website. Make sure your angle is totally unique and can’t be found in another publication or on their website.

2. If you subscribe to Writer’s Market or some other writer’s publication, don’t take the information at face value. Dig a little deeper to find out exactly what an editor wants. As I discovered, the information about a publication and what an editor wants may be out-of-date.

3. Read, edit and revise your query letter. Read your query letter out loud to make sure it sounds coherent. Correct grammar and punctuation. Also, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How unique is my angle? What can I do to ‘tweak’ the angle and make it more unique?
  • Will the publication’s target audience be interested in my article?
  • What do I have to offer the readers of the publication?
  • Where can I find experts for my article?
  • *Do you have the correct spelling of the editor’s name?

*Note: Writer’s Market provided an email address for the editor of the publication I queried; the editor’s name was not included. I performed a Google search to locate the editor’s name. Always find out the correct spelling of an editor’s name.

4. Do you need to send a CV/resume and clips to accompany your query letter? The information on Writer’s Market did not state that a writer must send a CV/resume and clips to the publication I queried. When in doubt, find and read the writer’s guidelines. If they’re not listed on the website, send an email to the editor and or assistant editor and request them.

As I said in the beginning, I’m thrilled to have heard from the editor of the publication I queried. All is not lost because I have the opportunity to submit another angle (stronger) along with my CV/resume and clips. Whew!

Freelance writers; learn all you can about pitching and querying editors. While Writer’s Market and other publications for writers are fantastic ways to get your name out there, don’t take the information at face value. Do your own research before you email or send your query via snail mail.

Good luck!


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Freelance Writers: Rebranding Doesn’t Have to be Painful

Freelance writers are no different than companies when it comes to branding. We have to creative a website, a web presence, and logo; stay on top of social media, communicate effectively with clients, etc. The owners or board of a company will rebrand because it could be time to go in another direction. Other times, a company will re-brand if it’s suffered a publicity scandal. Ouch! In any event, I’m no different than a company and have decided it’s time to rebrand me along with my portfolio site Change is good, and I anticipate only good to come from my decision. With that said … my new, balanced name is Amandah Tayler Blackwell (Amandah Blackwell); it has a nice ‘ring’ to it. For business purposes, I’ll use Amandah T. Blackwell as my signature.

I was surprised at how common it is for solo professionals to change their name. Let’s face it; most actors and actress change their name or use a stage name instead of their legal name. All of us know that Norma Jean became Marilyn Monroe. Marion Morrison is best known as John Wayne. I can’t imagine the movie poster for True Grit with the words, “True Grit starring Marion Morrison as Rooster Cogburn.” I don’t think so.

What’s this: Did you know that some freelance writers and authors use ‘pen names‘ instead of their ‘real’ names? Some of the best-selling authors don’t use their legal names and or publish under different pen names. Some authors have five or more pen names. That’s too many for me!

You may be wondering how I came up with Amandah Tayler Blackwell. Well … I contacted a company in Vancouver, B.C. that specializes in business and personal name changes. It’s not a decision I made lightly. In fact, I’ve been contemplating changing my name for quite some time. Family and friends may need more time to adjust to the change, but I believe it’s in my best interest and look forward to the new ‘energy’ around my ‘new’ name.

How to rebrand your company

1. Life is constantly changing, nothing is stagnant. Embrace change, and it will embrace you.

2. Re-branding can breathe new life into a business and or take it in a totally new direction.

3. What is your mission? Why are you in business? Knowing the answers to these questions can help you embrace rebranding your company.

4. Talk to your clients/customers. There’s a reason why companies conduct focus groups — they want to know what they’re customers want and or how to improve upon products and services. You may as well go straight to the ‘source’ and ask, “What can we do for you?”

5. Ask for help. If you’re in a ‘niche’ that’s saturated, partnering with other businesses is a great way to expand your market.

6. Rethink your target market. Can you expand your target market without having to introduce new products and services?

7. Consider renaming your company. Did you know that Pepsi was first known in 1898 as Brad’s Drink? The name was changed to Pepsi-Cola in 1903 and later to what we now recognize as Pepsi. Talk about an evolution! Pepsi is well-known throughout the world, with many satisfied customers.

8. Communication is the key. It’s important to show and tell clients and customers ‘why’ you’re rebranding and how it will benefit them. Create a video, infographic, etc. Change doesn’t have to be hard — it can be exciting and take you places you could have only imagined.

Thanks for tagging along on my journey. I appreciate everyone who reads and likes Savvy Writing Careers!

Amandah T. Blackwell

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To Get More Clients, Sometimes Less is More

This post is from the Success for Solopreneurs Newsletter and is used with  permission from:

Katy Tafoya is teacher and a coach who finds joy in helping women claim their passion and expertise. She guides solopreneurs to make their lives and their businesses juicier, more fulfilling and more successful. She also leads the Val Gal quarterly networking dinners which are always open to the public and in the greater San Fernando Valley. If you’re ready to identify, claim and leverage your expertise and live your passion you can sign up for a a F.R.E.E. subscription to her weekly ezine at

“We are all experts in our own little niches.” ~ Alex Trebek 

Let me guess…you can help everyone and everyone is your client.

And yet with ALL those people that you can work with, you’re still not getting as many clients as you’d like or making the money you know you could be making.

Sound familiar? Sound frustrating?

So the question is…what are we going to do about it?

When my clients come to me complaining about their lack of income and clients, I’d say that many times it’s because they haven’t narrowed down their niche. Other times it’s because they don’t really know what they do for their clients, but that’s just the other side of the “niche” coin – and they go hand in hand (and we’ll talk more about that another day).

What exactly is a niche?

Now that’s the million dollar question. You see, your niche is a combination of the people you work with (your ideal client), the problems you can help them solve, and how you (and your unique perspective and experience) can help them gain something they really want (more money, more time, more balance, better health, new love, etc) with your special techniques, tools or systems.

Now look closely at what I just wrote and you’ll notice there no where does it even begin to imply that you can work with EVERYONE to help solve ALL their problems. You can’t. And you and I both know deep down, that you wouldn’t want to, even if you could.

What you really need to do is figure out what you’re actually in the business of doing.

Are you an organizer who helps people transfer all their past records into organized digital files? Are you a massage therapist that helps pregnant women feel relaxed and de-stressed throughout her pregnancy? Are you a therapist that works with families of substance abusers? Are you a nutritionist that teaches working moms of school-age children how to shop for and create healthy and tasty meals for her over-committed family in under 30 minutes a day? Are you a freelance writer who focuses on technical writing for health care facilities? (I added this one … Rebecca)

Figure out what you do and get specific.

Once you know what you DO (and you can clearly communicate that when you’re out and about networking and interacting), people will recognize themselves in the problems that you say you can help them with and the end result you they can gain. And when people recognize themselves in the problem, and know that you offer up a solution, they want to work with you…it’s as if you KNOW what they’re going through (and I’m guessing that you do since you’re the expert here).

And of course, this all supports YOU as the expert. When you’re known within your circles as the expert, the solver of X problem, the bringer of my Y, you become very sought after. Not only do people want to work with you and get your help, but they’re also willing to pay good money to get their problems solved and to obtain that coveted result.

And notice again, you’re not becoming the Jill of all trades. You’re not the solver of all things. You are the EXPERT who can help a specific group of people, solve a very specific problem…and achieve very specific RESULTS.

A word of advice…ask from help from an outside source to help you work through this. Ask your friend to tell you what they think you do. Ask them to ask you questions that you, as the expert know the answers to. The goal here is to get out of the box you’ve put yourself in and think differently. And yes, that typically takes an extra pair of eyes and a healthy brainstorm.

And don’t be surprised if your niche turns into something you never thought of before. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, that’s the good stuff. That’s what gets you excited to work every day and what thrills your clients because they can finally get the help they’ve been craving.

ACTION PLAN: What’s the first step you’re going to take to start working on fine-tuning and maybe even redefining your niche?


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Writing Coaches with Low Conversion Rates – Stop Writing Well

In my blog post How to Stop Writing Fairly Difficult Content, I wrote about how my assistant editor emailed me statistics on my content which was rated as ‘fairly difficult’ to read based on The Flesch Reading Ease Readability formula. Unfortunately, writing coaches may have to stop writing well. This sounds ironic, but approaching your writing from a different point-of-view could increase conversion rates.

Tip #1: Most readers ‘scan’ blog posts and articles they find online. Write ‘How To and Top 10’ posts that are easily read by your target audience.

Tip #2: It’s important to know your target audience and write for them. Forget about using one dollar words and writing long-winded paragraphs. Use simple language readers will understand.

Currently, newspaper reporters write articles to be understood by readers at a 5th grade level. It’s not the best ‘news’ to read or hear, but it is what it is. Keep this in mind when you write your newsletter, blog posts and articles; and create content for your YouTube channel. Get to the point, make it and move on. Don’ drone on and on because you may lose your target audience if you do.

Tip #3: Be like a newspaper reporter and write content that’s understandable. Analyze your writing to make sure it could be understood by your readers.

When was the last time you read your writing out loud? Before you post a blog post or submit an article to Ezine Articles, read it out loud. Does your writing flow? Or is it choppy? Did you edit your writing? How long are the sentences? Are you using ‘simple’ language? Make sure your writing is ‘spot on’ before your writing goes public.

Tip #4: Avoid using industry jargon/lingo because readers may not understand it.

If you’re a writing coach, it may be difficult for you to stop writing well because you’re in the business of ‘coaching’ writers. It’s an oxymoron! The writers you coach need to understand that if they write over their target audiences’ heads, their books sales could remain stagnate. It’s a conundrum!


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Alexandre Dumas May Be Dead But He Still Makes Headlines and You Can Too

Alexandre Dumas is an author who still makes headlines — he’s been dead for over 140 years! And he’s one of my favorite authors. Alexandre’s books such as The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask, The Count of Monte Cristo and other books have been made into Hollywood movies over and over again. Some of them are good, and some are not so good. But the point is Alexandre Dumas’ books are still read by millions of people and directors and producers continue to make movies based on his work. Talk about having the ‘it’ factor!

Why is Alexandre Dumas still popular? For one thing, he loved what he did and he was a versatile author. He had a rich family history which he used to his advantage. Did you know that one of his ancestors was a general in Napoleon’s army?  Unfortunately, this particular ancestor wasn’t serving in the army long, but he still earned the right to say, “I served with Napoleon.”

Do you have trouble writing? Do you schedule writing time, only to find yourself working on other things? Alexandre Dumas put in 14 hour days writing into the wee hours. He also collaborated with other writers to create works such as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.

Alexandre was a colorful character and could have been a character in one his novels! He was no angel but at least he was true to himself and never shied away from being his authentic self. He didn’t fret about what others would think of him, especially family and friends. Dumas lived large — emphasis on lived.

What authors and freelance writers can learn from Alexandre Dumas?

1. Use your family’s history to your advantage. If you come from a colorful family, write about it. Create characters based on people deceased and living. If you’re worried about backlash, give characters ‘extra’ characteristics that will differentiate them family and friends.

2. Write! You’ve heard this a billion times but it’s true. If you want to write a book, you must sit down and write it.

3. Forget about your closest critics. If you know you’re supposed to write a book, sit down and write it. Only speak about your books with supportive, loving people. This may not include family and friends.

4. Improve your writing by attending classes, conferences and workshops. Join writers groups, read blogs written by other writers, editors and literary agents; subscribe to the Writer’s Digest and other publications; and purchase a couple of books on writing.

5. Learn the art of sales and marketing. Like it or not, authors must become comfortable with sales and marketing. It’s important to learn how to connect with your audience. Welcome and answer their questions. Be sincere and grateful readers are buying your books. Don’t be afraid to ‘own’ and stand behind your writing. Increase your self-confidence by talking with a life or writing coach. You can be ‘all’ the writer you can be!

Whenever you’re feeling stuck, ask yourself “WWADO” What Would Alexandre Dumas Do?


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How to Stop Writing Fairly Difficult Content

I received an interesting email from the assistant editor of the television network I write for. I was told I was a fairly difficult writer. I know what you’re thinking, “I thought Rebecca was professional; Rebecca doesn’t come across as a difficult writer; and I got the impression Rebecca meets her deadlines.” Of course, I’m professional! It’s my writing that’s fairly difficult to read. BTW: I almost fell out of my chair when I read that my writing is fairly difficult to read.

According to the assistant editor, “the formula uses a 100-point system based on the number of syllables per word and words per sentence.” An article that scores close to 100 is easier to read; the closer to 0 means readers will need a dictionary and other reference materials to help them understand the content. Adapted from Flesch, R. (1949). The art of readable writing. New York: Harper. p.149.

I had no idea that the network is using The Flesch Reading Ease Readability Formula. I never heard of this formula; I never knew it even existed. Apparently, “The Flesch Reading Ease Formula was created by Rudolph Flesch in 1948. He was an author, writing consultant, and supporter of the Plain English Movement. Rudolph earned a Ph.D. in English from Columbia University and advocated the return of phonics.” Who knew?

FYI: A score of 70 is estimated for readers with an eighth or ninth grade education. A score of 100 means content can be understood by readers with a fourth grade education. This isn’t ideal but it is what it is.

This was very fascinating to me, and I decided to test one of my articles from Savvy Writing Careers with Rebecca. I used the free online readability test from Readability and the article I chose scored an 80. It scored an 80 because it was the ‘typical’ list type of blog post which is very easy to read. 

BTW: I was told by a writing coach to write my screenplays for a ‘general audience’ that has at least an eighth grade education.

How to Stop Writing Fairly Difficult Content

1. Write more list and ‘how to’ articles and blog posts.

2. Always write content for the target audience; make sure you know who the target audience is.

3. Most people ‘scan’ articles instead of reading them. Keep blog posts and articles to the point and use shorter sentences.

4. Forget about using 50 cent and $1 words — use simple language

5. Use bold headings and sentences, bullet points and blurbs.

FYI: Did you know that newspaper reporters write their articles to be understood by readers with at least a fifth grade education?

Some writers may be shaking their heads from reading this blog post, but the fact-of-the-matter is this is reality right now. Some readers aren’t that skilled in English and grammar or they don’t have the time to read lengthy blog posts or articles. Always keep your target audience in mind when you write and most importantly, keep your freelance writing clients’ target audience in mind when you write.

*Statistics on this blog post are as follows:

Passive sentences 14%
Flesch Reading Ease 63.2
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 7.5 (readers with at least a 7th or 8th grade education can understand this content)


How difficult is your content to read?

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