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Stet | February 2016

30 Jan 2016 1:22 PM | Roger Rueff (Administrator)
Stet Newsletter
February 2016

Volume 35 | Number 2

Editor's Note

Stet Editor Cynthia TomusiakCynthia Tomusiak

Getting to know you!

Some notes on networking. IWOC meetings give members and non-members a chance to get together, catch up and interact. It is networking.

Networking can occur during social events, meetings, and on social media. Networking can be fun, good for your business and good for you. Networking allows us to learn more about others, how we can help them and how they can help us. It can simply be about getting out and making friends. IWOC is a great group of friendly, caring and outgoing people, so it is easy to enjoy a meeting and meeting other IWOC and sometimes non-IWOC members.

Networking is valuable in so many ways—it brings opportunities both for business and a chance to help others.

Networking can be fun and good for your business and for you.

It can lead to more connections and an increased profile. It can lead to confidence and bring positive influences in your life (when you surround yourself with positive, motivated, like-minded people you will be more positive and motivated yourself). I would like to create a section in the newsletter for an IWOC member profile of the month. I think we can get to know each other a little better through the newsletter. I would like to see members send in information about themselves and a photo.

I would like to create an IWOC member profile section for Stet.

There are many members that are not able to come to all of the meetings and even those that do, we could learn more about you or get a reminder of who you are and what you do. Since you are writing your own submission—it is an easy byline in Stet! I hope everyone likes the idea and starts sending in submissions.

As a reminder, all submissions are due on the 15th of the month prior to publication on the first of the next month. So March submissions are due February 15th. Thanks for your assistance and looking forward to getting to know you better.

- Cynthia Tomusiak

February Meeting Preview

Freelance Writing for Today’s Tough Media Markets

Image courtesy Stuart Miles at

Today, freelancing for media markets as an independent writer can be a rough-and-tumble experience—even for those with an iron will to succeed despite overwhelming odds and tough competition.

That should be no surprise for those based in Chicago. Around the world, the image of Chicago usually reflects a tough, gritty town ready to edge out, or elbow, the competition.

In the city’s breaking-news pages, on TV or radio, in print magazines, online, and in news-oriented cinema, the Chicago scene is riddled with tough, sweating strivers, hell-bent on winning out against any competition. Think of: John Dillinger with a Thompson machine gun; the St. Valentine’s Day massacre in the roaring 20s; or someone of lesser-importance today, squeezing the trigger rapidly on a 9-millimeter Glock.

Freelancing for media markets can be a rough-and-tumble experience.

It may also include determined IWOC writers, who insist on “shooting” for the media markets. So if you see yourself becoming the new “freelance gunslinger” in town, how can you further condition yourself and toughen up for greater freelance-media success? Indeed, if you “feel lucky,” then why not take a shot at gaining some invaluable insights on freelancing for print media, online media opportunities, and related media options.

Come to IWOC’s next meeting on Feb. 9 to hear a presentation by experienced Chicago-based freelance writer and photojournalist Peter Bella, who will offer his first-hand advice based on years of street-wise savvy.

Bella is the Unit Chair of Working Journalists, a freelancer’s union. He also writes blogs about the city and is also working on authoring his first cook book.

Prior to launching a freelance writing career, Bella served as a police officer.

Prior to launching a freelance-writing career, Bella gained much of his street-wise expertise in a different arena, as a Chicago police officer assigned to take professional-style photos of what had occurred at violent crime scenes.

To be sure, as some news reporters who have covered a night-side Chicago police beat are aware, such photos might include some rough, gory photographs. That has not effected his current position. Retired from police work, Bella says he has a passion for cooking and food—and some apparently even consider him to be the “Cooking Cop.”

But also, Bella is the Unit Chair of Working Journalists and its part-time organizer/coordinator. This freelancers’ group, run by the Chicago News Guild, is aimed at strengthening freelance-based media professionals in the Chicago area, and is open to both union and non-union colleagues. Such “working journalists” include freelance writers, those who blog, those who do photography or videography/visual work, those who conduct public relations and other professionals focusing on other related media.

At the upcoming February IWOC program, Bella will offer his insights on how freelancers can compete more effectively for media assignments, today’s media-writing opportunities, and what he sees as the biggest current challenges for independent writers. He will also discuss what Working Journalists does to help freelancers.

So, if you see yourself wanting to become the new freelance-media gunslinger in town, be there!

- Tom Lanning

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January Meeting Recap

Navigating the New World of Book Publishing

Jim Kepler

Once there were the Big 12 book publishers. Now there are only five, yet as traditional publishing has consolidated, other options have appeared or expanded. IWOC’s first meeting of 2016 was devoted to helping authors navigate this new and confusing publishing landscape.

The audience filled every seat at our Gratz Center meeting room on a frigid January night to hear two expert speakers. Jim Kepler is a longtime IWOC member who runs the production house Adams Press. Kim Bookless is a publishing consultant and book editor who is president of Chicago Women in Publishing.

The days of traditional book publishing are gone.

Traditionally, Kepler said, authors submitted a manuscript through an agent to a major publishing house, and if it was accepted there were book tours and royalties, and perhaps an advance. Those days are gone. Agents are picky, budgets have been slashed, advances are so low no one can live on them while writing, and royalties for a popular book—more than 10,000 copies—will be 15 percent. The publisher’s 85 percent pays for its services—editing, coaching, marketing, cover design, production design, and printing—and of course increasing profits.

Consider instead a small publisher, Kepler said, because you can approach these firms by yourself, and editors answer their own phones.

He had a few tips:

  • Find a book like yours and make it part of your pitch. It gives the editor a reference point when you say you’re writing a similar book with a different angle.
  • Even if your book isn’t finished, write the blurb now, and write it as a sales piece. It will change as production continues, but initially it will focus your theme and show the hook that will grab readers.
  • As part of your proposal, mention what you will write next. Editors are always interested in what else they may be able to sell.
  • Keep artwork to a minimum, especially color, because it pushes up costs.
  • Find someone to write a foreword. This may be a person you interviewed while researching. A foreword is a great marketing tool because it shows someone thought well of your book.
  • Identify your audience specifically, not just engineers but engineers of a particular industry.
Kim Bookless

In self-publishing, Bookless said, the author has a much greater profit but also assumes the financial risk. And producing a book the right way can be expensive. One theme ran through her talk: Don’t do it yourself. Unless you’re an experienced book cover designer, an experienced developmental editor, an experienced copy editor, and experienced in html formatting for e-books, you need to hire professionals. Skimp on these costs, and your book will look amateurish.

Her tips were:

  • Self-published authors must be willing to promote, and although many writers are more comfortable with their computers, it is difficult to succeed in self-publishing if you aren’t willing to do promotions.
  • Accept the fact that some people will not like your book. The best book in the world will be trashed by some reviewer on Amazon.
  • Begin marketing well in advance of publication. You can blog about your upcoming book, and you set up a website even if it announces nothing more than a title and projected publication date.

Using a developmental editor is crucial.

A developmental editor is crucial. This person will review your manuscript, tell you where it is weak, where it is strong, and how it can be improved. Better than going to a developmental editor with a finished manuscript is working with an editor from the beginning of your project because it will save your time and effort.

IWOC Members:
Click here to access the meeting podcast!

Publishing your own book means thinking like an entrepreneur, Bookless said. If you can’t afford to pay for a good job this year, wait until next year when you have enough money. Don’t dip into your children’s college fund or a 401(k) because making a profit from books is difficult. Look at a book project like a trip to Las Vegas: You establish a gambling fund and hope you will end with more than you started with, but you won’t be financially harmed if luck ignores you.

- David Steinkraus

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President's Column

2015’s Top Word Opens Their Ear

David Steinkraus

You may not know of the American Dialect Society, which is devoted to the study of the English language in North America, but every year it holds, what it asserts is, the longest-running vote to select a word of the year. For 2015, the top word is “they” used as a singular pronoun, especially to indicate people who reject the standard sex-dependent designations of “he” or “she.”

It’s a notable choice because it illustrates how limited our memories are and how silly are the criticisms of people who write those cantankerous letters to the editor lamenting the decay of language standards. Unfortunately for the guardians of word purityy, this use of “they” stretches back for centuries, says the society’s explanation of its choice. Chaucer, Jane Austen, and Shakespeare all contain variations of this usage.

The use of "they" as a singular pronoun stretches back for hundreds of years.

Perhaps you notice a similar style in modern British idiom. Listen to a BBC broadcast and you will hear a sentence like this: “Petroleum producer BP today announced they will cease exploration in the Arctic….” The plural pronoun turns the corporation into a collective in contrast to the singular “it” common on this side of the Atlantic. Look at the worldviews encapsulated in these choices. You can hypothesize that our aversion to using the plural “they” for a collective entity reflects or reinforces a reluctance to assign blame. A collective is automatically accountable because we implicitly understand the corporate “they” refers to real people who made poor choices and must bear the consequences.

In an "it" corporation, people are components instead of human beings.

In an “it” corporation people are components—detached, fungible parts just following orders, no one doing anything meaningful—instead of human beings with intelligence, freewill, and moral responsibility. This choice ferments passive constructions that diffuse responsibility in clouds of abstraction: Mistakes were made.

The Washington Post has accepted this new or old use of “they,” but the Associated Press has not. Its—I should say “their”—current stylebook says “their” is a plural possessive and must agree in number with the antecedent.

The problem is the lack of a generic third-person pronoun in American English.

In other words, “Everyone raised their hands” is bad, bad, bad. And the Chicago Manual of Style (section 5.46 in the current 3-pound edition) declares that while common in casual usage, the use of “they” as a singular pronoun is simply not done. Of course, the manual admits, the problem is the lack of a generic third-person pronoun in American English, yet its answer to this insufficiency is section 5.225 that lists nine possible methods for writing around the problem. They are nine solutions in search of a problem because there isn’t one if the writer opens their mind a crack.

The dialect society’s 2015 list includes other words, among them the word most likely to succeed in becoming part of the language, the one least likely to succeed, and best emoji. My favorite was the most creative word: “ammosexual,” meaning a person who fetishizes firearms.

The vote is just for fun, says the society. It (or they) are not trying to impose its (or s/his, or their) imprimatur on the language, and that’s good because no one can, not even the Chicago Manual.

The last quality we need in our language is rigidity.

The last quality we need in our language is rigidity because it nurtures an accompanying rigidity of thought, which brings restriction of freedom. Orwell understood that. In “1984” his fictional dictatorship exerted social control and restricted thought by trying to remove words from the public vocabulary.

Fortunately, and in defiance of attempts at control or blandness, language refuses to stop evolving, which is to say the public, they, are always creating something new, or at least finding something old to supplant what doesn’t work. And for writers that is an encouraging thought.

- David Steinkraus

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