Friday, March 26, 2010

Bill of Rights for Writers, Editors

Darrell Laurant (right), longtime columnist for the Lynchburg News & Advance and the director of The Writers' Bridge, wrote the following as a blog entry at ( The Bridge is an international community of freelance writers whose reason for existence is not just to market and sell the work of our members (although that's certainly a priority), but also to do its part to change the very culture of freelance writing.

"We think [the culture]needs changing," says Darrell. "In many ways, the relationship between editors and writers has always bordered on the adversarial. True, both groups have very specific concerns, rights and needs, but many of those are shared. A published article is really a collaboration, and needs to be seen that way throughout the process.

"That's the way TWB wants to operate. At the moment, we have over 100 members representing more than 30 American states and a dozen other countries. Any of them are welcome to post their opinions, personal stories and writing in this space.

"For openers, I'd like to offer these suggestions for making life easier for both editors and freelancers. Call it a Bill of Rights." Here is Darrell's bill:


1. Editors have the right to article pitches that reflect at least some knowledge of their magazine or Website.It is unrealistic to expect writers -- who are, in most cases, equally busy people -- to plow through years of back issues. It is, however, reasonable to presume that they have some sense of the subject, scope and tone of a publication, as well as what has been printed in recent issues. They should also have thoroughly read whatever writers' guidelines might be available.

2. Editors have the right to enough information in queries for them to make a decision.How is this a story that will fit this particular market? Who is this writer, and what are his or her credentials?

3. Editors have the right to establish their own rules for queries.If a market requires that queries be snail mailed, then that's how you should do it. The only exception might be a story with an extremely short shelf life -- if, for instance, a writer wants to know if an editor would like him or her to cover a breaking event.

4. Editors have the right to ask for stories on speculation. If they've never worked with you before, they have no idea what you're going to send them. Even published clips don't always help, because they may have been heavily edited. Spec status should be made clear at the time the article is requested, however.

5. Editors have the right to receive the article for which they contracted.Any significant changes in subject or tone should be worked out during the writing process.

6. Editors have the right to receive material that is reasonably free of grammatical or spelling errors. If you can't spell, find someone who can to go over your manuscript.

7. Editors have the right to set deadlines, and to have those deadlines met. (But see No. 3 below). In the case of magazine editors, they also have the right to have their requests for story lengths met, since they are often trying to fill a specific hole in their layout.

8. Editors have the right to communication from their writers. If you're having trouble meeting a deadline or finding a source, by all means contact the editor with whom you're working and let them know in advance. On the other hand, they also have the right not to be pestered as to whether a particular idea has been accepted or is being considered. If possible, respect their stated window of response time.

9. Editors have the right to check your facts. They'll be the ones left holding the bag if you get something wrong.


1. Freelancers have the right to shop their ideas around, just as they would to sell a car or a house. Markets that say "No simultaneous submissions" are simply being unrealistic -- in the time it takes a writer to hear from one editor, a story may have grown stale and unsellable. For their part, writers should be honest about this -- trying to sell the same story to two similar markets who each think they're getting an "exclusive" is highly unethical.

2. Freelancers have the right to a reasonably quick response to queries. Magazines and Websites are often understaffed these days, it's true. But if a query is obviously off the mark, it shouldn't take long to hit the return button on an e-mail and say: "Thanks. Not for us." Or to write the same comment on a snail mail query and drop it back into the SASE. If an editor is considering a pitch, it would also be nice to let the writer know, and how long that decision might take.

3. Freelancers have the right to reasonable deadlines. Editors should be organized enough to plan ahead and not have to ask that stories be done on rush order. That benefits neither party.

4. Just like editors, freelancers have the right to communication. The editor should be clear about what he or she wants in a story before the fact.

5. Freelancers have the right to be paid as advertised. It's a lot to ask to begin with to expect a writer to wait until publication, rather than upon acceptance, to receive a check. But if that's what's been agreed on, renumeration should be prompt. A house or car payment might depend upon it.

6. Freelancers have the right to be informed in advance if their work is going to be used in any other manner than what has been agreed upon.

7. Freelancers have the right to request a signed contract -- even a contingency contract for stories on spec.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Writers Workshop: Marketing Your Work

Thomas Becher (right), president and owner of Roanoke-based PR and ad agency tba (the becher agency), will talk about marketing your work at the monthly Arts Council of the Blue Ridge Writers Workshop Tuesday at 6:30 at Center in the Square.

He will as you questions like: Are you interesting? How can you get your work noticed? And then he will talk about ways you can get the most from your greatest strength—the ability to write and communicate – through PR and social media.

He will discuss developing your personal brand; building a strategic marketing plan; planning and executing public relations strategies and tactics; social media must-haves and ideas to market your self-published book.

This is a presentation that has been requested several times and I think you’ll find Thomas to be knowledgeable, well informed and a good speaker. If you’re looking to market your book or just your writing skills, this is where you belong. The cost is a meager $5 for non-members (free for members).

Call Rhonda Hale at the Arts Council at 540-224-1205 or e-mail her at

Join Me Tuesday for The Big Read in Bonsack

I hope all you lovely people will join me tomorrow night (Tuesday) at the Blue Ridge Library on U.S. 460 just east of Roanoke in the Bonsack area for a discussion of the voices used in Ernest Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying. It starts at 6:30 and goes until we're all tired of each other.

This is one of a series of events this month in The Big Read, a community-wide event featuring this book at its center. The Big Read is a national organization that promotes community reading both for its own value and as a community-building event.

Gaines' book tells the story of a man whose mission is to--reluctantly and with considerable prodding--help a condemned felon feel a sense of worth before his execution in Louisiana. Cheerful little book, it is.

Anyhow, come by and help us figure out just exactly what Gaines is saying, how it plays out and how you might have done it better.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Screenwriting Competition Scheduled in Virginia

Our buddy Sara Elizabeth Timmins shares the following for all you aspiring screenwriters:

The 2010 Virginia Screenwriting Competition presented by the Virginia Film Office is open to Virginia residents and students attending Virginia schools, there is no entry fee to submit a screenplay.

Every screenplay in the competition will receive a written critique from the first panel of judges and screenplays selected as finalists in the competition are judged by industry professionals actively producing feature films.

The deadline to enter is Friday, May 21, 2010. All entries must be postmarked on or before that date.For a complete list of rules and the application form, click here.

For more information or questions, contact the Virginia Film Office at 800-854-6233 or email

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Life Renewed in a Thank-You Note

Elizabeth Jones with Dan Smith at the conference.^

Elizabeth Jones, who won the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference's scholarship for 2010, is, by all accounts, a remarkable woman who will be heard from in the future. The letter she has written to us as a "thank you" note to our conference, gives an indication that the word we got on her is right. Here's the letter:

Dear Dan [Smith, conference founder],

I feel such gratitude for the scholarship check I received from Hollins that was awarded by you and the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference in January. It was a wonderful conference, well thought-out, entertaining and informative.

I also feel as if I need to tell you why this check means so much to me.

Five years ago, my youngest brother, Steven Matthews, was murdered in Baltimore. He was an innocent bystander in a home invasion. The house that Steven lived in was a group home for young men who were striving to become clean and sober after years of addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Six months prior to his death, my brother challenged me to finish my education. His words went something lik this: "Liz, are you a drug addict? Are you a recovering alcoholic? Are you bi-polar? No? Well, I am. If I can finish college and even go on to get my MFA and teaching certificate, what is your excuse?

It was this memory that brought me to Hollins University. And, it is the many memories of Steven that have brought me into the non-fiction genre. Thanks to the support and encouragement of my peers and professors, I am well into a memoir that I believe may be marketable. I also hope it can help others who deal with the loss of a loved-one to violence. My experience is that the grieving process is as individual as where a person's freckles appear on [her] face; totally unique and personal. I don't believe in time limits or standards for grieving; however, all too often we are made to feel as if we need to "shape up" and "get on with life." Empathy and compassion can be too short lived and the person who is mourning is left alone before they have been able to fully process how their life has changed.

During the conversation we had that I refer to above, Steven and I also made promises to each other in the event of our deaths. Whoever was left behind had to take some of the other's ashes to the Grand Canyon (we were raised in Flagstaff, Arizona) and to Barbados, West Indies (where we lived a few times while my father was on sabbatical for research). Last year, I was able to take some of Steven's ashes to Arizona. This summer, I will finish fulfilling my promise to him by taking his remaining ashes to Barbados. I will be able to complete the final phase of my memoir after that experience.

I would not be able to complete this mission on my brother's behalf without your gift. You have truly helped me with my work and my promise.

On the day that Steven died, two other men died and one was seriously wounded. My understanding is that two others were at AA meetings, and one was doing lanudry in the basement with his headphones on. Steven had been cooking dinner for all of them when the gunmen kicked in the door. Four of them were found in the living room, sitting close enough to be holding hands. One had fainted and three were dead.

The positive news is that the medical examiner stated that all of the men living in that house were clean and sober. All were succeeding. It makes me think of the old quote, "A lone man together is just that, a man. Put him with others and he becomes part of an army." I don't know who wrote that, but the truth is that Steven had found his army after many years of personal disappointment. I feel as if I have a wonderful opportunity to honor his last request and the men he lived and died with by writing about them.

So, thank you. This may well be much more information than you need or want, but it helps me show my gratitude, of which I have so much right now.

Elizabeth Matthews Jones
Hollins Horizons '10