Tagged: advice

never network alone

Q. Do you have any tips for networking? I’ve debated asking a fellow freelancer about getting work, but I’m afraid of stepping on her toes.

A. When I started freelancing, I thought that meeting other freelancers was the best way to get gigs. They get gigs, and I want gigs, so they can give me some of their gigs, right? But I quickly realized that other freelancers aren’t the people I should be hitting up for work. (Those are the people who control the budgets — editors, project managers, publishers.)

Networking with other freelancers is a great idea, but you should just approach them human to human. We all have people who we would like to be when we grow up — and the dream networking situation with them would involve porting all their knowledge and connections straight into our brainmeats. But play it cool. If you’re desperate for work and approach everybody as a conduit to finding work, yes, it can be awkward. (Grilling strangers for work leads is never a good look.) Networking, when you’re doing it right, feels like making a new friend — or at least pleasantly interacting with a coworker you like. And when you’ve shown them that you’re cool (even if you’re freaking on the inside), they’ll be much more likely down the road to potentially share leads or introduce you to other people.

The best way to avoid feeling like you’re encroaching on someone’s territory is to realize that we’re all in this together. You’re a freelancer, I’m a freelancer: Let’s get together and dish. An email to a fellow freelancer might look something like this:

Hey, [awesomely successful person]!

I’m a freelancer also living in [your city], working on [whatever you do]. I really loved that project you did about [an awesome thing]. Could I buy you a coffee some time? It’d be great to meet up and share war stories!

Recently I set myself a goal of meeting one new person a week, whether it’s by going to a networking event or reaching out to a specific person. My trick is that I don’t only aim to meet people who I might get work from. Sure, I love to meet editors and publishers, but I’ve also met other writers, marketing people, tech entrepreneurs and nonprofit folks.  I love going to networking events where editorial freelancers are in the minority, because meeting people from other fields is really interesting. And as a bonus, I’m likely also a curious specimen to them.

[Tangent: Don’t be that guy who gives his business card to literally every single person at a networking event, even people he didn’t talk to. One deep connection is worth more than 100 shallow ones.]

An acquaintance here in Cincinnati seems to know everybody and frequently offers to help me like it’s no big deal. At first I was like, what’s your game, friend? Who offers to help without expecting something in return? But then I read “Never Eat Alone” and totally got it. Networking is about focusing on what you can give other people. She’s a connector of the highest order. She helps people by meeting everybody and learning what they’re working on, and then she connects the dots by introducing the right people to each other at the right times. As one of the recipients of her professional matchmaking, I can tell you that I have frequently introduced other people to her. The song never ends. (Related: Ann Friedman’s Shine Theory)

By saying that networking is all about giving, I don’t mean to imply that good networking involves divulging all your proprietary info and personal contacts to anyone who asks for them. (I protect my best editorial contacts with all the power of Xenu.) When you connect successfully with a fellow freelancer, what you walk away with might not be a job but a rec of a must-read blog or a referral to another person you should meet or just a new lunch buddy. And when you meet a freelancer in need, you share alike. You’ve been there.

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getting work and keeping work (neil gaiman and gifs)

This Neil Gaiman commencement speech was mentioned recently on NPR and is now available as a book, “Make Good Art,” designed by Chip Kidd. The thing that really stood out to me in the interview was his two-of-three rule (this “secret knowledge” for freelancers starts around minute 14):

You get work however you get work. People keep working in a freelance world — and more and more of today’s world is freelance — because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. They’ll forgive the lateness of the work if it’s good, and if they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as the others if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.”

This is so true. I’ve made decisions based on these three attributes, subconsciously, as a magazine editor assigning articles. And I often doubt my abilities as a writer (Gaiman also talks about impostor syndrome in his speech), so I make it my business to always be on time and as pleasant as possible to work with so I at least get that two out of three.

And if nothing else, I can make rad GIFs (jifs):

freelance venn diagram based on neil gaiman

After hearing Neil Gaiman on the radio, I came up with this hypothetical rule of threes specifically for pitching magazine articles. Everybody knows that to sell a story to a magazine, you need a solid topic with a fresh angle. But you also need at least two of the following attributes:

  • Access: Do you have physical proximity to the subject matter, or a personal connection that gets you access where other reporters cannot?
  • Expertise: Have you written about the subject before or have an advanced understanding of it?
  • Reputation: Are you known by the publication’s audience as a trusted voice or by its editors as a reliable writer?

pitching magazine articles infographic

If you have all three, your pitch is way strong, and you might be a wizard. But if you have two out of the three, you still have a really good chance that your pitch is going to get picked up.

If you’re held in good esteem by magazine editors and have access to people or places, you might get by with being a novice in the subject matter. (Example: Susan Orlean goes to a local cream cheese factory to write about collusion with the bagel industry.) If the magazine’s never heard of you before, you need to have written about the topic before and have access to the right interview subjects. (Example: You’ve been reporting on a local university for years and have all the background info on a recent scandal to pitch an in-depth piece to a national outlet.) Or if you’re a known entity to editors and are an expert in the subject matter, the magazine might help you get access to the people or places of note — or be more likely to straight-up assign stuff to you. (Example: You’ve written about  health policy for a magazine many times before, so you’re their first pick to profile the new surgeon general.)

That’s my theory of how to get a pitch picked up. Fellow freelancers, what do you think?

Can I Get in Trouble for Selling Crafts Based on Popular Characters?

Can you make things that look like copyrighted characters and sell them on Etsy? My friend is making really cool Oscar the Grouch hats, but could she can get in trouble for selling them?

copyright symbol, craft and copyrightAs a general rule, you shouldn’t sell crafts with any character, image or logo that’s not your own. Etsy can and will remove items or ban you for selling work that infringes on others’ intellectual property rights — that includes copyrights, trademarks and patents. So that includes Oscar the Grouch’s face, the Steelers’ logo, the Nike swoosh, a Jeff Koons sculpture, and on and on.

In some cases, companies even restrict the commercial use of fabric or stamps they create. You’ll often see “for private/personal use only” printed on the selvage of fabric. If you want to use commercially produced supplies in the crafts you sell, you should check for the company’s angel policy first. For example, here’s the angel policy page for EKSuccess, which is very specific about the procedure to follow if you want to sell items made with anything they produce.

Aside from the fact that Etsy can take your items down or ban you entirely for selling items with copyrighted or unlicensed images, it’s better for business to make and sell only originals anyway. By creating your own images, patterns or characters, you can establish a visual brand for yourself that’s unique and recognizable.

Instead of making plushies in the image of Sesame Street characters, create your own lovable monsters. Rather than buying commercially printed fabric, create your own patterns and designs on Spoonflower. Instead of using stamps someone else made, carve your own! When in doubt, DIY.

Caveat: I’m not a lawyer. But the folks over at the Art Law Center are.


Got a craft business question for me? Post it on Facebook or Twitter, and I might answer it here!

packing for a long trip: real talk

prius with suitcase on a road tripI keep meaning to post a full recap of my road trip, but it’s so hard to distill three weeks of living down to one blog post! I’m going to keep working on that, but in the meantime I thought I’d share what I learned about packing light for a long road trip.

Before the trip I googled stuff like “how to pack for a long trip” with little luck. The little good advice I found was for business travelers and always written for men. (Thanks for the suggestion of just taking one suit that I can wear during the day and out on the town, Internet.)

I started by making a list of all the things I thought I should bring on my three-week trip. I was travelling by car, but I was going to be in some big cities where I wouldn’t want to leave anything in it overnight. So restricting my stuff to one big suitcase was ideal. Then I edited down the list, on the advice of Mr. Glass, who knows a thing or two about travelling. And then I edited it down again as I was packing and running out of room.

One thing I didn’t account for in my packing was how much the temperature would change from early September in DC and New York (muggy and warm!) to upstate New York and Cleveland in mid- to late September (hella cold!). Whoops. But for a summertime trip I would’ve been good.

Here’s my final, annotated road trip packing list:

  • CLOTHING
    • one pair of jeans [cut from two]
    • three skirts
    • four dresses [two of which I wore over and over again — could’ve cut two]
    • four short-sleeved tops and four tank tops [I needed more sleeved shirts, in retrospect]
    • a cardigan
    • a sweatshirt-like jacket [and then I had to buy a fleece jacket on the road when the cold crept up on me in upstate New York. So if I had to do this again, I’d add a real jacket to this list]
    • 12 undies and 3 bras
    • four pairs of socks
    • two pairs of tights [but I only wore and rewore the super-opaque American Apparel tights — highly recommended]
    • a pashmina scarf
    • workout clothes [never used these]
    • bathing suit [ditto]
    • sleeping clothes
    • flip flops, green flats, sneakers and black heels [never wore the heels]
  • TECH ITEMS
    • laptop and charger
    • smartphone and charger
    • Square
    • iPod and car adapter [hardly used this]
  • OTHER
    • a clear makeup bag of toiletries and meds
    • Sally Hansen nail strips [lasts so much longer than nail polish, though it’s a bitch to remove]
    • 20 copies of my book
    • a couple dozen of my cards and stickers to sell
    • gifts for my hosts [9 cans of Cincinnati chili and sauce, basically. Luckily these went to the first people I visited on the trip]
    • a cloth laundry bag and extra cloth totebags
    • small craft kit [hardly used it, but it was small]
    • books to read [initially on my list, but I scratched it when I realized every person I was staying with would have plenty of things for me to read]
    • a few NYT Magazines [lightweight and easy to roll up]
    • sunglasses
    • an umbrella [bought at the MOMA store]
  • FOOD/DRINK
    • NPR mug [best pledge drive investment ever — works for hot and cold drinks]
    • tea, emergenC, instant coffee packs, bottle of water
    • granola bars, almonds, mints, oatmeal packets, microwave popcorn

All that stuff fit into one big suitcase (a cheapo Target suitcase that is on its last legs), a messenger bag (for the computer), my handbag, and a totebag for the snacks and drinks. Half of my books I put into the bottom of my suitcase; the other half I mailed to myself at my roadtrip’s halfway point in Boston. Best idea ever.

Another thing I did and highly recommend was get a clear plastic storage cube to use as a divider in my suitcase. All my small items (socks, bras, toiletry bag, toothpaste, etc.) I put in there in the top, which kept them from getting lost in the bottom of my suitcase. And, of course, crashing with friends almost everywhere along the way meant I had the chance to do laundry.

I was seriously skeptical about my ability to live out of a suitcase for three weeks, but I got used to it really quickly. Makes me wonder what I’m doing with a closet full of stuff…

What’s the Best Glue for Paper?

Amanda asks: Grace, what is the best adhesive to use for attaching paper on paper? Specifically, old paper onto new paper. Also, will you please start a Q&A craft blog? Great. Thanks.

Your wish is my command!

The most important thing to be aware of when using old paper and gluing papers together is the acidity. Old papers that are wood-based are going to yellow and deteriorate much faster than cotton-based papers and “acid-free” papers. So the last thing you want to do is add an acidic glue into the mix, too.

When I was in college, I took a book arts class in which we used YES glue, aka YES Lay Flat, which is cellulose-based and doesn’t make paper curl. The instructor swore by it. But I’ve found that YES starts to crackle and come unglued after a while, so my go-to glue is PVA glue. PVA is archival, water-soluble and stays flexible after it dries. (Schoolyard staple Elmer’s glue is similar.) I get my PVA glue in bulk from Hollander’s in Ann Arbor and decant it in a smaller squeeze bottle.

Also, this old-school website tells you how to glue anything to anything. Got more craft questions? Ask me!