Interview Transcripts

Chynna Laird: Breaking into a Freelance Career 4/26/07


Legend:
Questions from the Audience are presented in red.
Answers by the Speaker are in black.
The Moderator's comments are in blue.

Mary Rosenblum

Hello all!

 

Welcome to our Professional Connection chat!

 

I'm glad you all could make it.

 

Tonight we're chatting with Chynna Laird, freelancer.

 

Chynna is a mom of three and freelances part-time from her home (Lily Wolf Words) in Edmonton Canada. She's been published in several local, online and national magazines. She'll also be featured in Chicken Soup For The Soul in September 2007. Her advice: "Write what your heart tells you to."

 

Chynna, welcome! I know a lot of folk have been looking forward to our chat!

Chynna Laird

Hi Mary! Hi everyone! It's great to be here.

Mary Rosenblum

So Chynna, let's start at the beginning. When did you first get into writing and how?

Chynna Laird

Well, Iíve actually been writing since I was very young. Writing in journals, etc. Then

 

I wrote a little book when I was in elementary school which got put into the library for other kids to take out.

 

One day, many years after that, my little sister came home with that book! That was it for me. What a great feeling.

 

I didn't start to think about professional writing until I started the Breaking Into Print course at Long Ridge.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, that's cool! I love it that your sis got your book out! Early start! So did you first write fiction, then?

Chynna Laird

Yes. It was called "The Adventures of Super Bug".

Mary Rosenblum

What first got you into writing nonfiction?

Chynna Laird

I think it's because what inspires me most is real experiences. I find it easier to talk about things I know about and have experienced.

 

Then I chose the nonfiction part of the Breaking into Print course and my passion blossomed from there.

mentors matter

How long after you did course before you were published?

Chynna Laird

I was published while I was still taking the course. The amazing part was it wasn't even an assignment!

Mary Rosenblum

So what kinds of work have you been writing and publishing? Personal narratives? How-to type nonfiction? Something else?

Chynna Laird

I have done How-to articles, a few parenting articles and, mostly, inspirational.

Mary Rosenblum

I know a lot of folks dream of starting a career freelancing. What do you think it was that started you selling?

Chynna Laird

I think what started me selling was a desire to share my stories with other people. The first story I sold was one my favorite Uncle read and said "Wow

 

you should get this out there for others to see." I thought, would people really want to read MY stuff? But I gave it a shot and was pleasantly surprised!

Mary Rosenblum

Aren't you featured on the Women on Writing website this month? I thought I noticed your name.

Chynna Laird

LOL Mary, I am an intern with WOW, and so very honored to be. Unfortunately, because of other commitments

 

I can't do as much for them as I'd like to. But once school dies down a bit, I can do more for them. That is an AWESOME place to be.

sharons

What magazines have you written for?

Chynna Laird

I have written for Angels On Earth, Pure Inspirations, Mothering, LR, Chicken Soup For The Soul

 

and a few local publications (Birth Issues and an ezine for breastfeeding)

 

If you're interested in or good at inspirational stories, Angels On Earth is a great one to try! They lo

 

They accept new writers.

sol

What type of inspirational do you do?

Chynna Laird

I've written both Christian and personal inspirational. They're my personal fav. J

 

If you love writing from the heart, it's a great place to try.

Mary Rosenblum

This brings up a point I'd like to address. How much do you find that you can write what moves you, and how much to you write for a market?

Chynna Laird

That's an awesome question, Mary.

 

Actually, I tried to write specifically for a market but I found my quality of writing went down. It wasn't "me" writing, you know?

 

You have to write what moves you...what inspires you otherwise your writing suffers. At least that's what I've found.

 

When I write to fit into a specific magazine, I'm not as happy about what comes out. When I write from my heart, it always seems to do better.

mentors matter

Did you publish in non-paying markets initially just for clips?

Chynna Laird

Yes, that's very important. I won a writing contest and my confidence soared!

 

I sold that story to Angels On Earth. After that, I fired out queries left, right and center based on the money you could earn.

 

Let's just say I accumulated ALOT of rejection letters. I realized then I needed to build up a clip portfolio FIRST.

 

That's when I looked around at local publications and now I have a nice clip file going. It really helps!!

Mary Rosenblum

Well, you've answered about half of Yvylyn's question, but let me give you the whole thing!

yvylyn

Did you experience a lot of rejection slips before being published and how did you handle that?"

Mary Rosenblum

How did you handle them?

Chynna Laird

Yes, yvylyn, I did get a lot of rejection letters. It's all part of the game. It hurt. It still does. LOL.

 

You just have to take it all in stride. I always write something first THEN look at what possible markets it could fit into. It reduces the rejection pile.

 

What they say in the LR course about query letters is very helpful too.

 

Here's a little tip: the first query letter I got a great compliment on, I kept and use as a precedent.

Mary Rosenblum

Smart idea, Chynna!

sharons

Did you find it difficult to locate the right markets?

Chynna Laird

Thanks, Mary. Obviously you'll have to modify it for each publication but I go with what works. LOL

 

Yes, sharons, at first. What I found was I needed to take a step back and evaluate my work and ask

 

"Would this mag like this story/article?" You just have to read their guidelines and ask yourself if your piece will fit into what they do. It's not always easy to tell though.

 

Sometimes you just have to take a chance!! It may work out.

sol

How many queries did it take to 'get it right?'

sol

That is, did you practice query letters before sending out one for real?

Chynna Laird

Oh sol...quite a few. LOL Sometimes a writer has luck and the first one works! But yes you just have to keep practicing until something works. I think I had a gift for writing letters from working in a law office for many years. LOL

sol

Have you studied markets by reading back issues, getting a subscription, etc.?

Chynna Laird

For sure, sol. I actually subscribed to all the magazines I wanted to write for. That's the best way to learn about the publication.

 

Just like they say in the course you look at letters to the editor, the writing style of the articles, even the ads. IT tells you a lot about what the magazine is trying to say.

sharons

What is you advice for getting local publications?

Chynna Laird

Here in Edmonton we have boxes outside of stores that have free mags you can pick up.

 

Just look for the head editor and ask if they accept freelance work and, if so, for their writers' guidelines.

 

Many are happy to have writers interested in writing for them. I was amazed at how excited and accepting the local pubs were when I asked about writing for them.

 

Itís a great way to start the clip file.

jrandall407

Can you elaborate on what a "clip portfolio" is?

Chynna Laird

Sure. My clip portfolio is a file holding the actual published article. When people ask for clips, you can send them a copy of the article that was published in the magazine.

 

That's what editors want when they ask for a "clip"

luvtolaf

Do you always need a query letter?

Chynna Laird

I've actually gotten editors ask to see an article on spec just sending an email describing the article in detail.

 

But most editors want a query letter.

sol

How many clips would you send with a query?

Chynna Laird

sol, I would send 2-3 clips that would be similar to the article you're proposing in your query letter

 

for example. If I was querying something for Mothering magazine or another glossy parenting magazine

 

you'd want to send a clip of an article you've done, say, for a local parenting magazine.

 

So, for Mothering, I'd send clips I did from Birth Issues.

sharons

Some query first and then write an article. Your thought?

Chynna Laird

I've done that too. It can get a bit crazy though if you've done that for a few places and they ALL want the article you've proposed.

 

LOL But I usually at least have it started or planned out so I can just do it up within a week or two if it's accepted.

mentors matter

And don't most large publications not allow simultaneous submissions?

Chynna Laird

Some don't. That doesn't mean you can't query the idea to several places at the same time

 

only that when you submit the article, it's just to that place. But if you do that, you have to make sure you tell them so they know the idea has been sent out to other places.

 

If a mag is really interested, they'll tell you they want it first. J

Mary Rosenblum

Nice way to prompt a quick reply, eh? And have you tried slanting the particular

 

topic so that you can place it in more than one magazine? Without violating that 'no

 

simultaneous submissions' rule?

Chynna Laird

LOL Yeah, Mary. It has gotten a quick reply...

 

Yes, you do try to slant it a bit differently. That way, if you have two magazines interested in your idea, you aren't breaking that rule.

 

An example would be querying a parenting magazine for tips on how to stop a tantrum before it starts

 

then for another focus on one of those tips. I read somewhere that those "tip articles" can actually generate several articles!

quixote

How much time would you need from starting a story to submitting it?

Chynna Laird

Quixote it depends. I've always said I can produce an article anywhere from a week to 2 weeks - depending on the subject.

 

For me, Iím only doing it part time right now but you really have to think about how busy you are.

 

If you have three articles to get out, then you just figure out how much time you'd need for each. I had one week

 

where I had 3 ideas accepted all at once! I took two weeks for all and got them done. You just have to be the judge of how fast you can do the article but still produce a quality piece.

 

Editors will let you know if they need it sooner or later too. NO worries. J

Mary Rosenblum

Chynna, let's talk about your work habits a bit here. You have three kids. And they're hardly grown ups either! That takes a lot of time and

 

I hear 'I don't have time to write' a LOT from students. How do you organize your writing life? So that you can get those articles out?

Chynna Laird

Yes. Well kids don't care if you have an article to get out, do they? LOL.

 

Well I just work around my kids' schedule and around my school work. AND, most importantly,

 

when Iím most creative. My mind works better first thing in the morning (believe it or not).

 

Or late at night. So, I get up a few hours before the kids, do a bit of studying then put in about an hour before they get up.

 

Then at night, I put in another hour of studying and a couple of hours to writing before I go to bed.

 

You can squish writing time in somewhere...even if it's just 1/2 an hour. J

Mary Rosenblum

Thank you!!! I think this is a point I can't stress too much. Writing is WORK. It's just work you love! Yes?

Chynna Laird

Yes, that's totally right. I use it as an incentive. If I do the stuff I have to (like studying)

 

then I can do the work I LOVE to do...writing.

lpt07

Do you have your own tricks for battling fatigue?

Chynna Laird

Oh man, lpt07. Iím always battling fatigue! LOL Let's see.

 

I do get energy from my kids (ya have to be a bit hyper with toddlers). So after they go for a nap, I can do some writing then

 

but if you don't have kids, the best thing to do is have a rest THEN write. Honestly, it does wonders.

 

There's nothing worse than sitting down to a blank monitor not being able to come up with a THING because you're so tired.

 

Then you just get frustrated. I am a nap supporter! J (lots of coffee helps too LOL)

sol

Hmm . . . guess I should have had a couple of kids. :-)

lpt07

Was it difficult to develop discipline...making that time?

Chynna Laird

LOL sol

 

Yes, but †I think once I found what truly inspires me, instead of writing for the money,

 

I found disciplining myself to write wasn't a problem. Now...if I just had that incentive for my school work. Just kidding. ;o)

sss1208

Do you set a certain amount of time to write every day, no matter what?

Mary Rosenblum

Or does it depend on life?

Chynna Laird

Yes, sss1208 but Mary's right too. I try to put in AT LEAST an hour a day. But when is different every day.

 

Some writers only write on weekends, others devote time daily. It depends on what else you've got going on.

 

For me, I like to put the time in each day. Keeps my mind going.

sharons

Can you speak a bit about rights?

Mary Rosenblum

What rights do you normally sell?

Chynna Laird

Sure, sharons. Was there something specific you wanted to know?

Mary Rosenblum

Have you run into contracts you weren't happy with?

Chynna Laird

Oh. Well, most of the stuff I've done has been first time rights then the rights going back to me.

 

I have done one-time exclusive rights (mag wants to be first to publish but you can send it somewhere else).

 

Yes, Mary I have. If you aren't happy with a contract then I strongly suggest getting someone to look at it -

 

preferably someone who's been in the biz for awhile - to look it over for you. Don't get into a contract you don't feel comfy with. It's not worth it.

Mary Rosenblum

Have you negotiated with editors over contract terms?

Chynna Laird

Once, Mary. I've been very lucky with the other places I've dealt with have been very fair. This one place

 

wanted all rights and to be able to put it anywhere they wanted to. I wasn't comfy with that.

 

WHERE else would they put it, you know?

Mary Rosenblum

And all rights means you can't ever resell that piece, too. What did you do? Say no? Or ask for changes?

Chynna Laird

That's right, Mary. I asked for changes but they wouldn't budge. So I said no. That's fine. I sold it somewhere else that treated the piece well and I was much happier.

 

Don't give in just for the if you don't feel good about what they'll do with it.

Mary Rosenblum

Amen!!!

labtekki

I have a hard time slanting my ideas, any suggestions?

Chynna Laird

That's a great question labtekki

 

Usually what I do is ask a question or make a statement that would peek an interest...such as...

 

did you know __% of girls between 10-18 have been on a diet or have eating problems?

 

(that was an idea I had to write a story about the importance of bringing awareness for eating disorders to Shape magazine...)

 

I can't remember the exact % amount but it was staggering. Then you just say why you think it should be discussed.

Mary Rosenblum

Nice example, Chynna. Thanks.

pegram

Do you do much research for your work?

Chynna Laird

pegram, it depends. For the above query, for example, you'd need to research exact %s, treatments, etc.

 

Usually the editor will ask you what they need specifically and let them know what sources you'll use.

 

If they want specific people contacted as sources (MAMM magazine only uses their own professionals) they'll tell you.† PLUM magazine only uses their own sources too, I believe.

quixote

Do you work with editors directly - or through an agent?

Chynna Laird

In freelancing, quixote, I only work with editors directly. If you plan to write a novel/book,

 

it's a good idea to get an agent if you don't want to deal with all the negotiating stuff...

 

I have writing mentors I ask for advice if I ever run into a situation Iím not comfortable with.

 

(Mary's pretty awesome. J )

Mary Rosenblum

J Thank you.

mentors matter

What is potential for income for a freelance nonfiction writer?

Chynna Laird

Really, as long as you have the drive, the potential for income is very good.

 

I have a friend in Australia who mainly does article for a few parenting mags and makes a great income.

 

For me, I do it part time and don't make as much as I could. But I know once I don't have school anymore and can focus on it full time, I'll do a lot better.

 

You just need to have A LOT of patience because editors don't always get back to you as fast as you'd like.

 

Just always make sure you're putting out new queries as you're waiting for replies.

Mary Rosenblum

And of course you don't get a weekly paycheck, so learning how to budget matters! I have friends who are full time

 

freelancers in NF and they make comfortable mid-five figure incomes.

Chynna Laird

Yes, Mary, that's so true. You just budget what you get when it comes in.

evleroux

Is freelancing for fiction gone about in the same way since it is a different form of writing?

Chynna Laird

With fiction, you usually just send in the finished piece. Is that right Mary? I've done a few fiction things.

 

With NF you usually have to query first.

Mary Rosenblum

It's the same principal, evleroux. You send in the complete story, you sell rarely at first but as you establish your name

 

you sell to more and larger markets and you begin to get anthology requests. Novel market is a different animal.

Chynna Laird

So true. You know a great thing to try is entering writing contests. I've been told the competition is a lot smaller, sometimes, for the contests. And it says a lot if you've had work that's won!

sharons

What is the average payment for an article?

Chynna Laird

sharons, it depends on the publication. I've gotten $400 for a small 700 word article and about $700 for a 1550 work piece.

 

The glossies pay a lot more (up to ) but are also a lot harder to get into.

Mary Rosenblum

The glossies are usually a minimum of $500 and go WAY up for features.

Chynna Laird

Yeah.

Mary Rosenblum

(You'll be in there regularly, Chynna. :-))

doyou

On average, how many articles do you get published per year?

Chynna Laird

Aw...thanks, Mary.

 

Iíve been doing this about a year and sell about 2 a month. If you want to make a living off freelancing, I highly suggest shooting for more than that...LOL...

Chynna Laird

But keep in mind for the first few months, I was doing freebees to get clips. Now I focus more on the paid ones

Chynna Laird

(but I do write for a couple who pay nothing because I love the mags, like Autism Digest or Birth Issues).

Mary Rosenblum

You should start getting paid assignments soon if you aren't already, too.

Chynna Laird

Yes, I am now Mary. The few freebee ones still email me to ask if I'll write something...

 

I do when I have time. After all, they helped me get started.

jrandall407

On the subject of writing from the heart, my family is my heart. They're not always thrilled, and frequently misunderstand, when I write about them: any suggestions?

Mary Rosenblum

Any advice for jrandall?

Chynna Laird

jrandall407, that's an excellent question. And a situation I experienced recently with my oldest daughter, Jaimie.

 

She had SID and I wrote a story about her for Chicken Soup. But when I told her about it, she cried.

 

I've also done a piece for Mothering about Grandparents. I think it's all in how it's presented. I know some people don't want to be written about.

 

A suggestion is to use your story but write it in 3rd person. Itís still true and still from your heart but you aren't using their names.

sol

Sometimes I think my concern for writing for a market hinders my ability to write from the heart. But then I think what I have to share isn't worth reading. I just can't get past that yet.

Mary Rosenblum

Any help for Sol, here?

Chynna Laird

sol, I know what you mean.

 

I often feel that way but people love stories from the heart and YOURS are worth reading....

Chynna Laird

What it is is building up your confidence. When I went to enter my first piece in a contest, I really hummed and hawed because I didn't think anyone would be interested and you know what? It won first prize. You can never go wrong writing what you feel and from your heart. Try Angels On Earth.

sol

And what form do those types of inspirational works take? Devotional? Personal experience?

Chynna Laird

I usually do personal experience pieces, sol. I'm working on the devotionals.

 

You take an experience that's happened to you - one place in time - and describe it so someone who wasn't there will know exactly what you're seeing.

 

I had a writer friend tell me to write as though you were writing for a person who's never seen ANYTHING --

 

what you feel, see, even smell so the person reading it can go "wow. I totally understand."

sol

Thank you, Chynna. The confidence thing is the problem, but I suspect will come with writing more.

 

It sure helps to hear all this. And thanks for the market tip.

Chynna Laird

sol, it was for me too. You'll find your confidence will soar the more your work gets seen.

 

I've had a few editors refuse something I've submitted the way it was but actually write on the letter what I could do to make it more acceptable to their mag.

 

It'll happen for you. Try entering contests too. Byline Magazine †has monthly ones to try. Even an honorable mention is AWESOME!

jrandall407

Chynna, your confidence is obvious -- and contagious. You've reflected objective sources for that... contests. But how do you know inside that what you're writing is quality?

Mary Rosenblum

Where do you find that confidence, Chynna?

Chynna Laird

Thanks jrandall407. J Well... I have to be honest, I write then edit, edit edit...LOL† I'm a perfectionist. If you can read over something you've written and it brings tears to your eyes, or brings back that memory for you as vividly as it did when it happened...it's quality.

sharons

Are you in a local writer's group?

Chynna Laird

I'm not but that's an excellent idea. I've taken LR's BIP and I'm in the novel course.

sss1208

How long did it take Chicken Soup to notify you that you were going to be published?

Chynna Laird

sss1208, it was a few months. I'd actually forgotten I submitted it. LOL But if they love your story, they WILL get a hold of you.

karon

When you send in E-mail submissions, how long do you wait for a reply?

Chynna Laird

karon, email submissions usually get a faster response but I usually wait the length of time they specify in the writers' guidelines before I contact them again.

labtekki

For research, where do you find the statistics? Can you use online info?

Chynna Laird

labtekki, yes, I do a lot of online research. I'm also fortunate because Iím a psych major

 

so I have TONS of books on various subjects. LOL You can also use the library. That's a great source too.

charie'

For e-mail submissions is there a way to verify that the magazine received your query?

Chynna Laird

charie, not all magazines will send you confirmation.

 

What I do is keep a copy of my email in my "sent" folder (using Outlook) then

Chynna Laird

send them a "I sent you an email dated blah blah" once the required time has gone by. I know it can be frustrating waiting for a response. LOL

writingwolfaert

Have you found any publishers to be more receptive than others?

Chynna Laird

Definitely, writingwolfaert. I just stick with the ones who've been most positive and responsive. Just have a thick skin.

 

some editors/publishers don't always take the time to be...uhm...polite. LOL

mentors matter

I can't seem to break into the women's nationals. Any tips?

Chynna Laird

I had the same problems.

 

They can be really tough to break into. I highly suggest trying to see if there's a local one

 

to write for. Then you can have a clip to give the glossy women's ones to show you can do the job.

Mary Rosenblum

Chynna, we have worked you hard tonight! Thank you so much for being so forthcoming with your excellent advice! I really appreciate it. And thank your hubby for babysitting so you could join us, too.

 

Thank you SO much for coming!

Chynna Laird

Aww... I had SO much fun Mary. If I can be of more help to anyone. Just let me know.

Mary Rosenblum

I'll certainly ask you back so we can keep up with your expanding career!

Chynna Laird

LOL I sure hope it does! I'd be glad to come again.

 

I hope I helped you guys!

Mary Rosenblum

You have been a great guest! Anything you want to share with us?

 

Articles coming out?

Chynna Laird

Well...I'm working on my memoirs

 

and I'll have an article in Focus On The Family (hopefully).

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, cool! Congrats!

 

Well, keep up the good work....and you're sure working hard! But that's the route to success in this business!

Mary Rosenblum

You take care and we'll look forward to talking with you again!

Chynna Laird

Sounds great.

Mary Rosenblum

You have a good night.

 

And thank you all for coming tonight!

 

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