Friday, October 31, 2008

PR Star of the Week: Andrea Kalmanovitz

I'm announcing a new feature on the 60 Percenters blog: PR Star of the Week. Each week, I'll sing the praises of one local PR person for doing something terrific.

As all reporters know, PR people are often maligned on a spectrum ranging from "mild annoyance" to "nefarious ne'er-do-well."

But freelancers tend to have more respect for them and usually develop amicable relationships with them. We depend on their press releases for stirring ideas and keeping us up-to-date on new businesses, events and projects. We count on their organizational prowess for scheduling client interviews and helping us track down additional sources.

This week's PR Star is Andrea Kalmanovitz, director of communications for Avenue Communities. Many of you might know her as your contact for Centerpoint in downtown Tempe. She has been invaluable to me in setting up a walk-through, lining up interviews and dispensing timely, useful and often technical information on a complex topic.

I cannot thank Andrea enough for her expertise and professionalism.

Do you have a candidate for PR Star of the Week?

I don't think I will run out of candidates even if I never get any outside nominations, but I'd love it if you'd e-mail me with suggestions each Friday morning. Please, let's just keep it open to nominations by freelancers, not from other PR folks.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Isn't it ironic that I posted an entry just last night about finding work and how some writers and editors just don't "gel," and this morning I get word that my work for The Times has gone away.
Let's not get into gory details, but just say that while someone there was happy with my first article, someone else was not.

Writing is subjective, as we all know. At our 60 Percenters real life meeting, someone asked if anyone was reading anything good lately and we got into a discussion about books. Slim Smith said he bought "The Shipping News" on my recommendation and stopped reading after two pages! Whoops. Nothing wrong with that; I'm just shocked that I thought he would like it.

Another friend at the meeting had raved about Eat Pray Love and insisted every woman should read it. I tried, but it wasn't for me. I couldn't get past the first chapter. The thing has sold multi-bazillion copies! Oprah loved it! Am I an idiot? Do all of these other readers have insight that I don't?

Nope, it just wasn't a fit for me. It's like going to the mall and trying on clothes. It's not that 99 percent of the clothes at the mall are bad clothes, even though it feels that way sometimes (especially when middle age sets in). Maybe the color wasn't right with my skin tone. Perhaps some clothes aren't cut for my figure.

Whatever the reason, those clothes will probably find a good home with someone, just not me. Now, there's always the case of the lime-green muu-muu, which is just objectively bad.

But rarely do you run a cross the writing equivalent of the lime green muu-muu. I certainly don't think that's my problem (correct me if I'm wrong).

The person at the Times thought if we worked together some more, we might find that fit. It's an idea: Sometimes after I've worn a pair of jeans a few times, they start to feel even better. But if something doesn't feel right in the dressing room right off the bat, I've learned, chances are it will get worse.

Too bad; I hoped I could create stunning ensembles that the Times would be proud to parade around town. Instead, I'm back on the rack, waiting for someone else's eyes to light up and hear them say, "That's exactly what I've been looking for!"

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

More layoffs

Gannett announced another round of layoffs today, which means more of our friends and colleagues will be out of work soon. They're trimming 10 percent of staff at the Arizona Republic in December.

The situation is grim, but I expect some of those getting cut will land on their feet as freelancers. On a positive note, I've been busier this month than I have in a while. Sure, my pay isn't what I'd like, but there's work out there.

The problem is finding it.

It's not easy to lay the foundation and make all the connections for jobs. It's one of the biggest struggles, in fact. I recently sent several queries, only to hear crickets chirping in return.

When I see my colleagues landing new clients, I'm happy for them, and I am sure they feel the same for me when I get a gig.

And on occasion, we share contacts. I've recommended people to editors when I can't take assignments or don't want a particular assignment. Sometimes I have to realize I'm not a good fit for a publication, or I don't gel with the editor, but someone else I know might be perfect.

But generally, we are not going to hand over our client list to each other or to a new freelancer and say, "Here are the best editors in town and what they're looking for and what they're paying."

I wish only the best to anyone who has recently suffered a job loss or who might soon be laid off. But please consider our position. Network away, my friends, and ask us anything you want about freelancing, but please don't expect us to be unpaid consultants who will line up work for you.

If you do bend our ear on the topic for an hour, the least you can do is buy us lunch sometime. Heck, even a drink. Coffee. Something. We're freelancers, after all. At least you still have a job for now.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The good witch

Lest you all think I have it out for editors and publishers, I wanted to publish a "good witch" post to balance out some of the negativity here.

I was absolutely thrilled to find out earlier this week that Amanda Kingsbury, my former editor from the East Valley Tribune, will be in town this weekend and I will get to see her for the first time in about three years, I believe. She is bringing her toddler daughter, Violet, whom I've never met, and her husband John, who will no doubt be jealous to the point of tears over my husband Eric's killer new mountain bike.

To say I can't wait to see them all is an understatement. Amanda is an editor extraordinaire who became a friend. I pretty much owe my career to her. She is one of the most intelligent and talented people I know, and on top of that, she is a complete sweetheart. I lacked confidence when I started in the Features department at the Tribune and she was the best teacher/editor a writer could ever have: Positive, constructive, encouraging, funny ... there really aren't enough adjectives to describe her.

Thanks to her tutelage, I became proficient at everything from the snappy 200-word intro to the 2,000-word long form feature. I won my first (and so far, only) award thanks to her: First place in long-form lifestyle writing from the Arizona Press Club.

She's won several awards and honors throughout her career and is now at the Indianapolis Star, where I'm sure she is kicking butt, as usual (in a good way).

Recently I looked back through several old feature articles I wrote while working for her, and I was proud of them. I took a few of them to an interview with a prospective publisher and he told me I was exactly what he'd been looking for. Those articles helped me land a new and exciting client, the Times (look for my article on unicycles in the November issue).

I've had several other wonderful editors since Amanda, but she is truly special.

Feel free to share your "good witch" stories here. Are there any editors you want to applaud? Any other colleagues who have been a positive influence?

Now this is scary

Speaking of scary editor stories, I have to warn you all about a most heinous character in our midst: The Publisher Who Wouldn't Pay.

Some of you know the deal. A colleague of mine took a job editing West Valley Magazine last spring. She assigned me a story with a fee that I thought was a bit low, but I took it hoping to establish a good relationship with the publication and be able to do more lucrative assignments as time went on.

After I filed the story, which took longer than I'd expected to research, publisher Kevin Elliott fired my colleague and then gave me and many other writers the run-around for a few weeks -- including the old "check's in the mail" line.

I don't know what happened with most of the other writers. One of my friends finally got a check, but he only owed her about $50. He owed me $190, which is no great sum, and another reason I'm baffled why he would burn a bridge and risk his reputation over it.

Here are a couple of his e-mails in response to my "where is my check" question: "I did receive it and sent a check last week. Can I check the address?" (Yes, I re-sent my address and asked if that was what he had on file.) "I can’t be sure I am not at my work. I will cancel and replace as you should have had it by now." Well, no check arrived, and Kevin never ran the piece.

I even called Hal De Keyser, supposedly a respected journalist in the Valley, who's been working with Kevin. He said he would see what he could do, but he's ignoring my e-mails, too.

All this over a lousy $190! Another freelancer told me the exact same thing happened to her a couple years ago with Kevin.

So be warned. If you work with Kevin, expect only tricks, no treats.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Real life 60 Percenters meeting

As the final Tuesday of the October draws near, the freelance community in Phoenix is giddy with anticipation of the monthly 60 Percenters gathering.

OK, maybe you're not giddy, but hopefully it does put you in a somewhat better mood knowing that you can meet and mingle with others who understand the freelance life.

We're heading to Solo Coffeehouse on the southeast corner of Mill and Baseline roads in Tempe at 9 a.m. Oct. 28. No need to RSVP.

In honor of Halloween, we will trade scary editor stories (imagine spooky editor sounds here).

My cell number is 480-298-0958 if you get lost.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"Your invited!"

Some of you got my e-mail forwarded from Denver Magazine with the subject line, "Your invited!"

I overlook typos and obvious brain farts in e-mails, especially when sent in haste. I hope others do the same for me.

But this was an invitation to a major launch party from a major city magazine. It seems many of our colleagues in the industry are losing their grasp on the language.

I can't count how many times I've seen local writers use "take a peak" when they meant "take a peek," or "flare" instead of "flair."

And apparently not everyone was in class the day we learned the difference between "it's" and "its." Hint: Read your sentence out loud, replacing "it's" with "it is." If it doesn't work, remove the apostrophe. "It's" is a contraction for "it is," while "its" is possessive -- the neutral correlation to "his" or "hers."

Let's all get on the good grammar and positive punctuation train, folks! I'd love to hear YOUR favorite common errors. YOU'RE invited to post them here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Another one bites the dust

The economy takes its toll on another publication: bizAZ, the business magazine published by the Arizona Republic, is folding. The November/December issue will be its last.

What in the world will the Business section do for centerpieces now? I never picked up bizAZ anymore, but I could keep up on what my gals Patricia Bathurst, Susie Steckner and Christia Gibbons were doing because their articles were always "repurposed" to the main paper.

Arizona Woman had cutbacks in its publishing schedule this year, too, but as far as I know, that's still clinging to life.

The Republic magazines were among the last in town to pay a decent frelance rate (50 cents a word). Thank goodness Phoenix Magazine is still doing all right, but that one publication is not going to keep all of us writers in town in business.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mark your calendars

It's a ways off, but mark your calendars for the first weekend in April.

The Valley of the Sun Pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists will host the Region 11 Spring Conference April 3-4 at the Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU.

We're working on panel discussion topics right now, so don't be surprised if we come calling on some local talent (that's you!) to participate.

If you haven't been to the new J-school downtown, it's wild. Mark Scarp likens it to a "journalism theme park."

Except in a real journalism theme park, they'd only serve Lean Cuisine and burned microwave popcorn at all the concession stands. The "Deadline of Doom" roller coaster would only run once a day (OK, twice -- once before noon for online stories).

And no matter how many basketballs you threw through the hoop in hopes of winning a stuffed animal, an editor would be on hand to ask you to do it again, maybe this time from another angle.

Attention all freelancers!

Attention Arizona freelance writers,

It's high time we had a blog by writers, for writers. Let's write about writing!

Do you need ethics advice? Are you trying to track down local sources? Has an editor stolen an idea from you? Did an editor ask for unreasonable revisions? Do you wonder how much you should be getting paid? Do you need a place to vent frustrations?

You are among friends.

Please consider this a "virtual coffeehouse" for airing any freelance-related topic. We also gather in real life at 9 a.m. the last Tuesday of the month at a Tempe coffeeshop. The date and venue can vary; e-mail me if you want to be added to the e-mail list for updates.