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Stet | April 2016

31 Mar 2016 10:10 AM | Anonymous
Stet Newsletter
April 2016

Volume 35 | Number 4

Catherine Rategan

Catherine Rategan
12/16/1932 – 3/23/2016

You wouldn’t be reading this issue of Stet – in fact, there wouldn’t even be a Stet, were it not for Catherine Rategan and Beth Bradfish. Because without them, there wouldn’t be an Independent Writers of Chicago. By having co-founded IWOC in 1980, Catherine and Beth provided us all with a place to meet other writers, learn from each other, laugh with each other, share war stories and successes, hear industry experts that would help us be better at our business, and just give us a chance to get out of our sweats, escape our cloistered, freelance lives and get our bad selves down at a mixer or holiday party. Many even say their careers wouldn’t have been as successful, let alone exist, without IWOC. So it was with great shock and sadness when we all learned of Catherine’s recent passing after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage, due to a fall. We owe much to her.

A good word from Catherine was as good as it gets.

Knowing Catherine, she would like hearing that. Then again, Catherine liked hearing a lot of things; she was a great listener, always fascinated in what others had to say. She had a compassionate ear, and an astute one, and when she did speak up – which, by the way, she was never hesitant to do, she was always so worth listening to. Sometimes she could be blunt. But that was ok, because you knew you were getting her honest opinion. So when she did dole out compliments – which she gave most generously, you knew she wasn’t being patronizing. A good word from Catherine was as good as it gets.

Catherine started her career right out of Trinity High School, serving as a clerk and working her way up to secretary. She soon found her calling as a copywriter and creative director at DDB Needham Advertising in Chicago – smack in the middle of the “Mad Men” era. But if anyone could stand toe-to-toe with those ad guys, it was Ms. Rategan. People of a certain age still can’t get the catchy copy out of their head that sprung from Catherine’s playful imagination. Remember the Dippity-Do spots? How could you not!

“Click here: to listen to WGN’s Rick Kogan interview Catherine telling her story about Memoirs & More."

After Needham, Catherine went independent and never looked back. While making a success of her own freelance career, she helped others do the same through the co-founding of IWOC and later on, served as president of ITVA, an association of video professionals. Most recently, she came full circle to what was one of her greatest loves: telling stories. At an age when most people have long been retired, Catherine started Memoirs & More that coalesced all she seemed to be put on Earth to do: She loved life. Especially hearing about the lives of others, and it was her greatest pleasure to listen to their stories and help weave them into a beautifully written keepsake to be handed down for generations. In putting her clients at ease, she would say in that gentle manner of hers that would draw people out, “It’s your memory. It belongs to you. And it is to be cherished.”

Catherine, we will cherish the memory of you, always.

Thank you.

Editor's note will return next month.

- Laura Stigler

April Meeting Preview

Technology for Freelance Writers - What Actually Works Best

Image courtesy mapichai via

Freelance writers who want to thrive must ensure they can effectively utilize essential tools in their business practices, despite the impact of continuing changes in digital technology on computers, communications, and practically all other aspects of contemporary life.

In short, writers need to use the right kinds of up-to-date technology tools. Join IWOC-ers for our regular monthly evening of networking and learning as a “show-and-tell” panel of four experienced freelance writers discusses which proven tech-based gadgets, gizmos, and related technology items have actually worked best for them “in the field” over time, enabling their writing businesses to generate bottom-line profits on a consistent basis.

In short, writers need to use the right kinds of up-to-date technology tools.

The panelists will display some of their most important writer’s tech tools, then offer a critique with pros and cons of each. Since each panelist tends to target different sectors of the overall writing market, their tech-based recommendations may differ.

Panelists include four veteran writers--Brent Brotine, Roger Rueff, Jeff Steele, and David Steinkraus. Based on current IWOC listings, it seems that they are engaged in different types of writing. For example, Brotine’s IWOC listing says he specializes in advertising, marketing and direct response, including areas such as finance and insurance, which entail writing brochures, collateral materials and web-site content.

Rueff, in contrast, positions himself as a “rare combination of technical, communication and creative skills,” which, he says, includes writing documentation, “help” systems, computer manuals, scriptwriting, training, web-site content, and web design and development. Steele specializes mostly in article writing, having published more than 3,000 articles in various newsletters and trade publications. He also offers corporate communications, finance, journalism, travel blogging, case histories, employee communications, fund-raising appeals, and company newsletters.

Finally, Steinkraus, IWOC’s current President, says in his listing that he has a “particular facility with scientific and technical topics,” and thus offers specialized work in the areas of environmental issues, government and politics, business-to-business journalism, photography, and science and technology.

A major goal of the program involves audience interaction!

A major goal of the program involves audience interaction. You are strongly invited to bring along your own tech tools that you can show and tell us about. A bit of playful interaction is especially encouraged here, in order to stimulate creative thinking. So bring some of your gizmos, stand up, show and tell us what you like--or hate--the most, get involved, and have some fun! The gadgets you show should be those that you depend upon heavily. And related to this, please explain the type of writing you do, along with your target market and why this particular technology is essential.

In addition, be sure to bring along some tough questions for the panelists. For example, items may include (but are not limited to):

  • Handheld communication devices, such as phones, cellular devices and tablets
  • Laptop computers and related
  • Interview tools, including tape recorders, headsets, transcription aids, and earphones for typing during interviews
  • Printers, fax machines, photocopiers, scanners, typewriters, postage machines (or expensive Mount Blanc fountain pens for that matter)
  • Any software-based physical gadget that generates transcribed copy when you talk into it
  • Payment-system technologies used for banking and cash management • Windows 10 or any one other software that’s critical for your business

The panelists will “front-load” the evening’s program with their review of this basic list, grounding us all in which tools, or techniques, they think work best. So, here’s what to do. First, think about your own writing business and the most important tech tools you’ve been using. Then, make a list of questions for the panel, and grab some of your favorite gadgets to bring along to the meeting. When you get to the program, feel free to interact, telling the panel and others in the audience which tech tools you like (or don’t) and get your questions answered. So join us Tuesday, April 12th at 5:00pm for more information, networking and fellowship!

- Tom Lanning

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March Meeting Recap

Accounting for Freelance Writers

Mary Lynch

Mary Lynch of Mary Lynch and Associates talked to the group about taxes, tax issues and how freelancers should deal with tax issues. Mary brought handouts which are available on the IWOC website. She specializes in small businesses.

Mary began the evening talking about bookkeeping systems and the fact that your receipts should match your tax returns. She recommended you use products that keep you organized and works with the way you do. There are electronic systems such as QuickBooks – both online and desk top. Mary likes the online version because it will go to your phone and when you are out and about you can snap a photo of your receipt, upload and you are done other than filing the receipt.

When you file receipts, you should file them based on type of expense, not by month.

She does not recommend the other end of the spectrum – throwing all of your receipts in to a box and trying to organize them at the end of the year. When you file receipts, you should file them based on type of expense, not by month. Being organized will really help with an audit. While the IRS is very understaffed and audits are less likely than in the past, you never know when you may win the audit lottery. There are some red flags. The IRS uses percentages to alert them. For example, if your percentage of meals and entertainment expense is higher than most others in the same line of work, that is a red flag. Anything over $250 should be depreciated and should have paper receipt for those items.

Mary told us, you must have a paper receipt to match the credit card bill. If you order online, print out the receipt. The IRS is supposed to accept scanned receipts but depending on the agent you may not get the deduction without paper to match. It is probably fine for most things that match up to others, like a credit card bill but if you pay cash KEEP the paper receipt. This goes for phone photos as well. She asked: when would you rather prepare for an audit – when it fresh in your mind? Get and be organized. Mary gave the example of two audits she handled for clients in one year. The first client was organized and the audit was done in a half day. The client, was not ready. Mary spent two days getting the client organized and still did not have all receipts. The resulting audit was a full day audit.

If you donate your services, you can deduct mileage and any out-of-pocket supplies but not your time.</>

When choosing an accountant, check references, how long they have been in business, look for a small business accountant, and look for someone who can talk to you in a way you understand as you are still responsible for what is on your taxes. You want an accountant that is like minded to you. If you walk on the straight and narrow, pick an accountant that is on strait and narrow. Realize that if your accountant is audited regularly that does not mean you will be. Ask them: How have your audits turned out? They should say “no change” or it was a minor problem. An enrolled agent is not a CPA but is enrolled to practice before IRS. Any CPA is authorized to practice before IRS.

IWOC Members:
Click here to access the meeting podcast!

As a freelancer you will have to file an annual return either March or April 15. Estimated payments are due quarterly and if you are having a good year let your accountant know and s/he can adjust the quarterly payment so you are not hit at the end of the tax year. There is no penalty for overpayment, the numbers are 90% of current year tax or 100% of last year’s tax. The threshold for quarterly taxes is $1,000 in taxes due. $600 is the threshold for generating a 1099. 

Mary gave some tips as well. If you donate your services, you can deduct mileage and any out-of-pocket supplies but not your time. You should know your tax rate and how much to set aside to pay your tax bill. Mileage is worth tracking. Mary uses Milebug, an app, to track her mileage. There is a small fee and there are others but she likes it because it will export to an excel spreadsheet. You can use a paper-based method as well. The IRS does not care how you track but you need to do it as it happens. Not all at once at the end of the year. You can also deduct transportation costs such as the train or cabs.

Mary gave a great presentation and there is more information in the handouts and on the podcast, both of which can be found on the member’s section of the website.

- Cynthia Tomusiak

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President's Column

Spring Outside and Be Inspired

David Steinkraus

During one of my infrequent visits to LinkedIn, I stumbled across an amusing discussion thread in a journalism group. A young and inexperienced journalist in need of people to interview asked about online resources to locate those who are still smoking despite public health campaigns. A more experienced person wrote a reply that essentially said: Get out of your chair, go to a business area, walk around until you find the spots where smokers congregate outside smoke-free buildings.

It was a refreshing post to read because — stop me if you’ve heard this before — people are too enamored of glowing screens and assign too much weight to these seemingly oracular devices. As writers we must fight this even though our livelihoods entice us to make the same choice.

As writers we must fight this even though our livelihoods entice us to make the same choice.

You see, no matter what type of writing we do, we deal with reality in some way, and a significant chunk of reality is not to be found inside a computer server. I do not suggest abandoning digital tools. Email is essential for work, Google for research, and Facebook keeps me in touch with my far-flung family. Yet I am not in touch with all of my relatives to the same degree even though I read their Facebook posts regularly. I feel more connected to those I see every year because visits add a texture perceptible only when you spend time in someone’s presence.

There is a limit to how much you can do from a desk, and the LinkedIn conversation illustrates the danger of basking for too long in the glow of a screen or even hunching for too long over the pile of unread magazines that never shrinks no matter how much effort you apply, like the doom of some hero in Greek mythology. By all means get up and get out. It's spring, time to socialize, to come out of your burrow and see what the other denizens are up to. It’s time to spend more time watching people on Michigan Avenue or eavesdropping in your favorite outdoor restaurant or coffee shop.

What, are you surprised that I advocate surreptitious observation of other humans?

It’s time to spend more time watching people on Michigan Avenue or eavesdropping in your favorite outdoor restaurant or coffee shop.

How else will you learn to practice your craft better? How else will you learn what people really think about a product or an issue or life unless they believe they are unobserved? Some years ago I was taking Metra home from an assignment in Chicago, and a guy sat down next to me. He pulled out his mobile phone and made three calls, in the process informing me that he felt harried and overworked, spent too little time with his family, had a wife taking afternoon Hebrew lessons and a daughter taking piano lessons, and had an upcoming business appointment in Cleveland to consult on a public utility issue. OK, I glanced at the report open on his lap for that last bit, but even public transit glimpses into other people’s lives give you more insight than a week’s worth of social media because they lack texture. If you believe you understand people well enough to skip this step, let me give you another anecdote. A year ago Taylor Swift gave an acceptance speech at the Billboard Music Awards in which she thanked her young fans for keeping her current on teen slang and teen angst. That’s right: Taylor Swift, in her mid 20s, is in danger of being out of touch with the young.

More than the details of your craft will grow from going out. So will your perceptions. Escaping routine will free your mind to follow what turns it will, and ideas will flow. As a journalist I know the advantage of eavesdropping, but any writer can and should. You find thoughts and comments that will not occur to you while you sit in a silent room waiting for your muse to return from an extended coffee break. It’s spring, time to play crocus and poke our heads out of the earth.

- David Steinkraus

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IWOC Members

Karen Schwartz

Karen Schwartz

How long have you been a member of IWOC? I think since 1987; it’s been a long time! During that time, I’ve been on a number of committees, served as program chair twice, once as seminar chair, and am now serving a third time on the IWOC Board of Directors.

What is your specialty? I consider myself more of a generalist. I’ve written about every subject under the sun, and for practically every type of client, from entrepreneurs to large companies. I’ve also written for numerous newspapers and magazines. The past few years, I’ve been writing a lot more legal, healthcare and financial materials. I also took a grantwriting course, so I hope to do that type of writing.

I also took a grantwriting course, so I hope to do that type of writing.

What piece of advice would you give a client working with a writer? Know what you want before you start working with a writer! Give the writer clear guidelines: What is your deadline, who is the audience, and if possible, before you begin a project, provide a writer with a similar type of type of writing – say a press release – that’s like the type of writing that you’re asking the freelance writer to do. A freelance writer is not a mind reader!!

Who’s your favorite superstar? I wouldn’t call him a “superstar,” but I love singer James Taylor. Meryl Streep is probably my favorite actress; she can take any character and perform the role well.

What’s your favorite food? Well, I love chocolate, and pizza – either deep dish or thin crust - is a favorite food of mine.

What advice would you give to new IWOC members? Over the years, some new IWOC members have dropped out of IWOC when they’ve been disappointed that they haven’t (quickly )gotten jobs through IWOC. And I would say to new IWOC members who are expecting that to happen: Don’t expect IWOC to be an automatic source of jobs.

That being said, it IS possible to get job referrals from other IWOC members. Sometimes other members might hear about an editor or client who’s looking for writers, and they will gladly give you this information.

Other ways to get work through IWOC? Of course, having your member profile on the IWOC website can yield phone calls and emails from potential clients. Another way is to attend IWOC meetings where you can network with other writers and let them know the type of writing that you do. You do financial writing and they don’t? Who knows? The next time they hear of a financial services firm that needs a top-notch financial writer, they might just email you or pick up the phone and call you. Haven’t attended an IWOC meeting in a long time..or ever? Come to just one – or many more – of our meetings that are planned for the rest of the year (We’ve got a great lineup of programs.) It’s a terrific opportunity to pick up some very useful information, network, and build relationships with other talented freelance writers.

I’d also like to tell other IWOC members to carry their business cards, and I recommend having them wherever they go.

I’d also like to tell other (new) IWOC members to carry their business cards – and yes, I recommend having them - wherever they go. I once had a conversation at my nephew’s bar mitzvah with my sister’s college roommate that resulted in a long-lasting writing job, and it was a good thing I had my business cards with me. So it’s a good idea to get those cards printed and carry them with you wherever you go.

The questions for next month are: 1) How long have you been a member of IWOC? 2) What is your specialty? 3) What one line of advice would you give a client working with a writer? 4) What book(s) is/are on your nightstand? 5)For a dream vacation, where would you insist someone visit? If you have questions of your own you would like to answer, that is fine as well. Stay tuned!

- Karen Schwartz

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IWOC Workshop

How To Publish And Market Your Book

Image courtesy adamr via

Maybe you’re in the process of writing it. Maybe it’s already written. But whatever stage you’re at of authoring your book, once it’s finished...then what?

Get book smart. Learn from four industry experts all the answers on how to publish it and get the word out to the world once you do. Come to: What: “How to Publish and Market Your Book” Workshop sponsored by Independent Writers of Chicago

Date: Saturday, April 9, 2016

Time: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Lunch will be served (yay!)

Where: Fourth Presbyterian Church Annex (Gratz Center) in the Bumpus Room (2nd fl.)

126 E. Chestnut St., Chicago, across from the Hancock Center. Convenient to public transit and many parking structures. Helpful hint: Check out Spot Hero and BestParking apps.

Fee: $75 (non-members); $65 (IWOC members)

RSVP by Tuesday, April 5

Seating is limited, so sign up TODAY at IWOC.ORG Audio of the workshop will be available online later for attendees.

THE PRESENTERS: Kim Bookless: Publishing consultant, editor and founder of the Chicago Self-Publishing Group, Kim gently but expertly guides indie and self-publishing authors along the path from concept and development to finished books. 

Jim Kepler: Jim is the hands-on owner of Adams Press, a specialty book production company that for 75 years, has been helping authors "turn their work into quality bound books at economical prices." 

Lissy Peace: President/Founder of public relations company Lissy Peace & Associates, Lissy has “developed a powerful niche in the book publishing industry...developing innovative marketing strategies to add to the success of each project.” 

Betsy Storm: Principal of Top Drawer Communications, Betsy is the author of Bright Lights of the Second City: 50 Prominent Chicagoans on Living with Passion and Purpose. Hear her reallife experiences in writing, publishing and marketing her labor of love.

- Laura Stigler

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Openings at IWOC

In November, IWOC’s Board of Directors appointed an interim Editor for Stet and an interim Membership Manager. We’re nearing the end of those appointment periods, so we are opening those positions to members interested in permanently filling them.

As editor you will assign or solicit articles as needed, gather art, and give IWOC a great public face.

Stet Editor

If you find yourself listing ways to improve Stet as you read it each month, or just have a knack for newsletters, the editor’s job should be right in your wheelhouse. Because we’re entering a new era with Stet as an e-newsletter, there’s even more opportunity to create something fresh, memorable, and that will look great on your resume. As editor you will assign or solicit articles as needed, gather art, and give IWOC a great public face. You’ll have the creative freedom to write your own articles if you wish, as well as come up with ideas about how Stet could be even more engaging, entertaining and informative. Although it’s published electronically, you don’t need technical skills to do this; we use a template from our membership management system so preparing the newsletter mostly means pasting text in the right places. And there’s plenty of help if you get stuck.

If you’re interested in these jobs, please tell us why and what ideas and skills you would bring to them.

Membership Manager

Our Membership Manager looks after IWOC’s people. That involves answering questions from members and people thinking of becoming members, reminders about renewal periods, and ensuring information in our member database stays current. Sounds computer-ish, but it isn’t, and there’s plenty of free support and advice. In the future the duties of the job may also include more involvement in member outreach and engagement. 

You get paid! Money comes with these positions in acknowledgement of the time involved. Stet pays $250 per month, and the membership manager position pays $150 per month. All we ask in return is that you commit to doing these jobs consistently. Which means as editor, putting out a monthly publication of Stet and as Membership Manager, taking care of member matters and initiatives as they come up. 

If you’re interested in these jobs, please tell us why and what ideas and skills you would bring to them. Put all of that in an email and send it to me at no later than April 8th. Send questions to me, too, at the same address. 

- David Steinkraus

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