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Stet | January 2017

31 Dec 2016 11:22 AM | Anonymous
Stet Newsletter
January 2017

Volume 36 | Number 1

Editor's Note

Stet Editor Cynthia TomusiakCynthia Tomusiak

Happy New Year! As your editor, I am resolved to do the best job I can for you. Last year, I rolled out “IWOC Member Profiles” and enjoy getting to know our members better, one at a time, once a month. I also requested letters to the editor and am looking forward to your letters. 

One of the ideas that came up at a recent board meeting was to add another IWOC member column, this time asking members to share their IWOC stories on “How IWOC has benefited you?"  We are jumping right in with that! It is the next article.

Finally, as the newsletter is now in a digital, email and blog post (on the website) format, I am working to keep the word count of all articles right around 500 words. This did not just come from me; the board also weighed in. We want Stet to be readable, helpful and relevant in this new format and all of us believe that the word count will contribute to that. 

Share your IWOC Stories about "How IWOC has benefited you?"

Our program committee is working hard on the programs for 2017. They have most of the year mapped out and are finalizing the January meeting - look for an email blast following up on that program. In any event, please plan to join us on January 10th, 2017 at 5:00pm for networking and at 6:00pm for the meeting at the Gratz Center (Room 4F), 126 E. Chestnut Street, Chicago.

To wrap up, I would like to share  my column and a seasonal contribution from one of our members: Richard Eastline.

The Theater of Winter

Something approaches and the skies begin to tremble. 

Chilled winds rush ahead freely dispersing shivering pronouncements as they seek out unexpected targets. 

They are the advance bearers of bitter change. 

A city not yet prepared to acknowledge the intruder is caught up in its seasonally crafted routines, deluded by a late receipt of the sun's weakened rays, bestowing counterfeit warmth and brightness on those below.

Scurrying figures are mouthing holiday greetings from faces momentarily wearing mandatory smiles. 

Is there foreboding in the air? 

In these times, it's ever-present, an urgent nagging embedded in some recess of memory. 

An instant or two passes and the scene is transformed by Nature's invisible stage hands. 

The sky now darkens for the theater of life's next act. 

An orchestra of winds plays fortissimo... 

Sound begets fury. 

Winter has come.

If you would like to contribute an article to Stet or be featured in an upcoming IWOC member profile, contact me and plan to submit before the monthly deadline of the 15th. Thank you.

- Cynthia Tomusiak

How IWOC Benefits Members

Sweating Out a New Business Meeting

Jeff Steele

JFK once famously exhorted Americans to ask not what their country could do for them. I took his advice and applied it not to my country but to IWOC. I joined not expecting much, just trying to cover my half moons in case anyone was to crack, “Well, you’ve failed at freelance writing. What’d ya expect? You never joined a writers’ group!”

I was into my third year of expectations lower than a snail’s ankles when one July day, the phone rang. On the other end, a voice was announcing my IWOC directory listing had been perused. And could I visit his suburban office to discuss some projects? I said yes and instantly began questioning how I’d get there. I didn’t have a car.

Eyeing a map and a Metra timetable, I learned I could train out from downtown, then hoof a mile and a half to the office in time for the confab. Piece of cake, I thought, and I might get a gig. There were just two as-yet-unseen problems with this assumption.

Piece of cake, I thought, and I might get a gig.

The first? It was summer of 1995, better known as the three months so hot the Chicago streets were paved with dead bodies, to hear the national media tell it. The second? The suburb to which I was headed was just slightly less hilly than the Alps.

The day of the interview dawned a scorcher. By the time I’d marched in suit and tie a mile and a half over hill and dale on a 95-degree afternoon, I looked like I’d been doused in a dunk tank. Luckily, I arrived a half hour ahead of schedule, and was able to cool and dry off enough to appear a bit less clown-like when ushered in for the meeting.

Well, I got the gig, and kept the client. In fact, I’m entering my 22nd year of working for that firm, which in 2016 was one of my two highest-volume, best-paying customers, and is still headed by the same IWOC directory reader who was at the helm 21 years ago.

When it comes to work, I’m still partaking like it’s 1995. And IWOC’s to thank.

- Jeff Steele

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Holiday Party Recap

Good Time Had By All

Passing presents

It was time once again for the ever-popular Holiday Party. The party moved this year to Marcello's at 645 W. North Avenue, this year. 

IWOC members met, in a party room in the back that we had all to ourselves. Those in attendance socialized; spending time discussing all sorts of enjoyable topics and getting to know one another a bit better.

A delicious and plentiful dinner was served family style. Some of the items passed around were chicken piccata, veggie lasagna, grilled vegetables and several desserts. Books were exchanged and Santa's helper passed out presents.

- Cynthia Tomusiak

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President's Column

Survey Says!

Laura Stigler

In the enthusiastic spirit of the classic game show, Family Feud, I’m here to announce that the results of the 3-Question survey are in!

As you may recall, about a month ago we sent out the 3-Q survey to all IWOC members and friends of IWOC, asking their opinions about this very organization. I want to share them with you, not only because they were well thought-out, caring and expressed a genuine interest in the well-being of IWOC, but this ultimately concerns how IWOC can affect your business. Besides, IWOC is family, right? We share.

So thank you to everyone who took the time to participate in the survey, and thank you, dear readers, who are taking the time to peruse the outcomes below.

Q #1: “What do you like about IWOC?” Survey says...

What respondents loved most about IWOC was the people themselves. The camaraderie. The networking. The fact that we’re all such a helpful and friendly bunch. Some couldn’t believe their luck that such a vibrant organization existed where professional writers can get together to share accomplishments, advice, war stories. And laughs. What also got thumbs up: The newsletter, job line, website, the online directory, monthly meetings, mixers, IWOC’s event participation, referrals gotten from fellow IWOC-ers, committee work, and the credibility factor IWOC lends to professional writers.

Q #2: “What can IWOC improve?” Survey says...

No itching for a family feud here. The suggestions were quite friendly in fact, falling into three buckets: 

1) new ideas the Board will act upon – or at the very least, discuss their feasibility: 

2) ideas already in the works; and 

3) ideas that have been considered at one point, but for various and practical reasons, were dismissed.

Let’s unpack each, beginning with bucket #3:

  • It was suggested IWOC hold some meetings in the suburbs – an issue that’s periodically raised. But it always comes down to the challenge of finding an affordable, consistently available meeting space in a locale most accessible transportation-wise for most members. Downtown Chicago seems to best fit that bill. Still, the good news is, podcasts of our monthly meetings are available online to members. Granted, attending meetings have extra benefits (networking, getting your questions answered by guest speakers, etc.), but for those who can’t always be present, the podcasts are an ideal solution.
  • All that said, what will be considered is suburban locales for any upcoming workshops or seminars. So stay tuned for that.

Bucket #2 (ideas in the works): This was a juicy one, because it means that our members and the Board are on the same wavelength. For instance:

  • Simplifying the membership sign-up and renewal process. We plan to have it in place by the next Membership Drive in September 2017.
  • A mentor program. Exactly what we’re planning to implement so as to expand IWOC’s mission and value to the writing community at large.

Bucket #1 (ideas we’ll be acting on):

  • More guest speakers who hire writers. Yes!
  • Striking up a relationship with the Small Business Development Center at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. Yes! This would help achieve another suggestion:
  • Increase awareness of IWOC as a central repository for employers to link up with writers
  • A table provided at meetings for those who wish to take notes on their laptop. Consider it done.

What respondents loved most about IWOC was the people themselves.

Q #3: “What’s the one thing you’d like IWOC to provide?” Survey says...

Actually, the responses dovetailed with a number of suggestions on how to improve IWOC. Here are the ideas that made the respondents’ wish lists. We will be looking into ways of granting them:

  • Workshops on: Editing. Writing effective press releases. Professional level seminars covering such topics as uncommon research sources, international marketing and becoming an authoritative voice in the marketplace. And more.
  • More job opportunities, including in the healthcare, education and non-profits fields
  • IWOC and outside author readings with Q&A’s and an opportunity to sell their books
  • Selling IWOC authors online
  • An advisory board to take on issues the Board doesn’t have time to address
  • Resurrect the print directory – get it into the hands of prospective employers
  • Forums for agents and publishers actively looking for writers

Game on!

All the above were discussed at the December Board Meeting, and a most satisfying discussion it was. Beyond confirming we’re on the right track, we are excited to use the survey results as a reference tool – a source of inspiration to keep us moving in the New Year towards where we want to be as an organization. And as a family.

Here’s to a happy, healthy, successful 2017!

- Laura Stigler

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Featured Member

Brent Brotine

Brent Brotine

How would you describe yourself? While I've been, at times, a general advertising writer, a broadcast writer-producer, a creative director and a retail advertising specialist, today I'm primarily a "classic" direct response copywriter. It's a skill that's often outsourced because many of today's millennials are not taught how to write long copy. And it's immensely satisfying to write a multi-page letter or scrolling website that sells a big-ticket purchase at first read, be it a financial product, membership organization or lifestyle gadget. Too, direct response is the one form of advertising copy that's data-driven: you can test what works and make decisions based on performance, not client guesswork or preconception.

What advice would you give on working for agency clients? There's more competition than ever if you're looking to be hired by advertising/marketing agencies or design firms. HR in larger firms often mandates that outsourcing be done through the third-party firms such as Artisan or Creative Circle as a safeguard from someone claiming formal employment status. And because there are often contracted low rates, you're limited in what you can charge. Being able to target and approach the creative director in charge of an account for which you have special expertise is your most likely avenue.

I see a lot more of my future writing being done from a Starbucks in St. Petersburg or a McDonald's in Madrid.

What is the best advice anyone has ever given you? When I began freelancing twenty-plus years ago after the Chicago office of my then-agency employer was closed, I was advised not to work from my kitchen table, but to have a formal out-of-home office. And until just a few months ago, when family matters required I be at home more, that's what I've done. It helped me focus on freelancing as a career rather than just a temporary stop until I found another full-time gig. And I believe it has made me more productive over the years — the interwebz are distracting enough without adding a big-screen TV, two cats and an overflowing refrigerator into the mix.

What are you doing these days? My better half intends to work for at least five more years, maybe more, before taking down her own shingle — so I'm in no hurry to reduce my hours. But, I'm actively adding more "fun" and volunteer jobs to the mix, with the intention of spending less overall time sitting behind the laptop. So, while I still have a roster of direct marketing clients, I'm also working part-time for WTTW-Channel 11 as an on-set pledge drive coordinator … driving for Uber … and serving as webmaster/board member/occasional cook-and-bottle-washer for my synagogue. All of which leads to:

What would you like to be doing differently in five years? Traveling more, not less. For years, I've toted my laptop on cruises and other excursions to keep up with work assignments, and as more people work virtually I don't stand out as much as I used to. So, I see a lot more of my future writing being done from a Starbucks in St. Petersburg or a McDonald's in Madrid.

Is there a website or other contact information? Absolutely. You can see some of my current projects at, and I'm reachable at or 530-BROTINE.

- Brent Brotine

Some questions for next month: 1) How would you describe yourself? 2) What is your specialty? 3) What one line of advice would you give a writer working with a client? 4) What would you like to be doing differently in five years? 5) What do you love most about what you do? If you have questions of your own you would like to answer, that is fine as well. Stay tuned!

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IWOC's New Members

IWOC would like to extend a warm welcome to our renewing member: James Hodl.

- Pam Colovos

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IWOC Board of Directors

Laura Stigler (President), Jeff Steele (Vice-president), Claire Nicolay (Secretary), Brent Brotine (Treasurer), David Steinkraus (Parliamentarian) George Becht, Tom Lanning, Diana Schneidman Cynthia Tomusiak

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