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Where Writers And Editors Meet
Today, I’m interviewing Darrell Laurant, of the Writer’s Bridge, a new service for writers:
Q. Darrell, tell us a bit about your background.
A. I’ve been a journalist for more than 30 years, working for newspapers in New York, South Carolina and now Virginia. I’ve also done a lot of freelancing, taught college courses in creative writing and journalism and once edited a sports magazine in Charleston, SC. I’ve always loved writing — not just the satisfaction of putting down the words but the fun of gathering information.
Q. How did you come up with the idea for Writer’s Bridge?
A. It occurred to me at some point that the whole system — if you can even call it a system — is flawed. In effect, freelancers and editors are dealing with each other from behind a curtain. The writers don’t really know what the editor wants, the editor has no idea if this person is going to produce a marketable piece of writing or make deadline. It’s really a crapshoot on both ends, and what happens is that writers get frustrated by rejections, while magazines and Websites keep cranking out the same stories that have been done a hundred times before.
In 1999, I did a newspaper article on a woman from Conyers, GA who claimed to be visited by the Virgin Mary. By the time I got there, more than 5,000 pilgrims were gathering outside her farmhouse on the 13th of each month. About a year later, on a whim, I sent the idea to Notre Dame Magazine, and they accepted it. Two years after that, the Washington Post ran a front page story on the woman. That showed me how long it takes for many stories to percolate up to the “mainstream” media. The Internet has speeded up the process, but I think it’s still true.
Q. What are some misconceptions you’ve noticed on the part of freelancers?
A. One, they don’t realize how many marketable freelance stories can be found in their own backyard. Some are viable national stories in their own right, others can work by using someone or something local as a “hook” and then expanding the piece by doing Internet research.
Two, it’s rarely a good idea to send a completed piece of work to an editor without querying first. Most of the time, these people have their own ideas about your article’s length, tone and focus. If the story is already finished, it takes that flexibility away, and makes it easier for the editor to say no.
Finally, so many writers give all their attention to the Atlantic Monthlys and Smithsonians of the world. It’s like refusing to go to the prom unless you can go with the best-looking, most popular girl or guy in your school. But there are literally thousands of markets out there, many of whom pay quite well, that you’ve never heard of or never imagined yourself writing for. One of my regular gigs, for $250-$300 a month, is a magazine called American Liquid Waste. I certainly never planned on that, but I’ve learned a lot.
Q. How does The Writers’ Bridge benefit writers?
A. The problem most freelancers have is time, because we’re generally doing it along with our “regular” jobs. So The Writers’ Bridge tries to help with finding markets for our members’ ideas, writing query letters, and digging up fresh ideas. For example, we set up a specific Google alert system for every member, and pass along ideas that seem to fit their area of interest or location. We send out a daily “FYI” list of freelance jobs, and a monthly collection of general ideas. In effect, we’re trying to become like a personal agent.
Q. How does it benefit editors?
A. One of the things I’m trying to do at this point is to start sending monthly lists of ideas to magazines and Websites — ideas that are very specific to their publication. Some of the ideas will have a writers’ name attached to them, some won’t. We try to give them enough information to intrigue them, but not enough for them to simply take the idea and run with it. This way, though, they can look down the list and see what subject they may have already covered, and if something interests them, the TWB member will send them a query in the usual manner.
We also guarantee editors that every piece submitted through us will have been edited for spelling, grammar and clarity.
Q. How can bloggers get involved?
A. I love the whole blogging concept — I just started one myself this year, in fact. All of a sudden, writers can get their work out there without having to be accepted for publication by some gatekeeper, and that has allowed a lot of really compelling and interesting voices to flourish. In seeking members for The Writers’ Bridge, I’m looking for journalists, bloggers and freelancers — anyone who writes well and has something to say.
Q. How much does the service cost?
A. Starting in January, we’re charging $9.99 a month. At the same time, we’re also offering two free months to try us out. After that, the fee is month-to-month, allowing you to bail out at any time if it’s not working for you.
Q. What’s the next step in developing Writer’s Bridge?
A. I’ve got a list of 3,700 ideas so far, and I’d like to get that up to 5,000. Then, I’ll start organizing them into lists for specific markets. We also want to get the membership built up so that whenever a good story pops up, we’ll have someone in that area. Right now, we have around 110 members from 35 states and around a dozen other countries.
Q. What is your vision for the site/service?
A. I would like to see us become a crossroads of the freelance world, a place where writers, editors and ideas can intersect.
Contact writersbridge AT hotmail DOT com to find out more.