Milking the Writing Cow

Suzette Martinez StandringFrom the November 2010 issue of the e-Columnist newsletter

By Suzette Martinez Standring
2004-05 NSNC Past President

As a long time freelance columnist, I used to envy the steady paycheck and job security of my salaried colleagues as I chased after writing gigs and venues. Today, newspapers have decimated their ranks of columnists and reporters, forcing such writers to go freelance, too. Is the cow of success big enough to be milked by all of us? I’m not sure, but I’ve been fashioning a three-legged milking stool. Perseverance is key.

W. Bruce Cameron used the “milking stool” metaphor when I interviewed him for my book, The Art of Column Writing. At the time (2007) he explained that his three tools for career advancement were column syndication, book authorship, and movies/television. Such strategies have served the award winning humorist well. Recently, his New York Times best selling book, A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel for Humans was bought by DreamWorks to be made into a movie.

Will Rogers and some of the cast of his 1933 movie Doctor BullLikewise, Dave Lieber, a Tasmanian devil of energy, has been a great role model in platform expansion. The consumer advocate columnist for The Fort Worth Star Telegram has added the career niches of public speaking, teaching, and book authorship, especially with “Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong. He’s been a generous mentor.

I took to heart the multi-pronged approach for career survival.

Column writing is my passion and I hold on to that national exposure through GateHouse News.

Books: Non-fiction is an easier sell than fiction, and The Art of Column Writing opened up doors for me in teaching opportunities. Regarding royalties, the six-month lag between sales and payment is exasperating.

But I have to stay on that book-writing train. My current book project is The Height of Power: Petite Women Speak of Stature. It’s a compilation of studies, research and facts along with essays by women, 5’3” and under, who successfully navigate the world at armpit level, with plans to include petite celebrities.

TV: My show, It’s All Write With Suzette is on a local access station in Massachusetts. I’ve gotten additional towns to pick up my program and will soon upload all my shows onto www.vimeo.com for Internet access.

On my show, I spend the first 15 minutes talking about an aspect of writing – voice, point of view, being brave when writing – and the second half I interview a writer who shares how she approaches the subject in her own work.

I’ve had columnists and writers on my show, such as W. Bruce Cameron, Bob Halloran (sports anchor for NewsCenter 5 here in New England), and Hallie Ephron, (and yes, Nora is her sister) whose mystery book, Never Tell A Life, is being made into a Lifetime movie next year.

My thought is TV could boost paid speaking engagements if people could easily see me in action by clicking a link.

But big bucks (even regular bucks!) have eluded me so far. I’m fond of saying to my husband, “Well, I’ve discovered yet another creative way not to make money.”

Like some of you, I run out of gas.

Full disclosure: about a month ago I had become so discouraged with the lack of “American validation” (read that $$) that I told myself I would quit writing at the beginning of the year if things didn’t turn around – a shocking statement coming from a syndicated columnist and book author. The hard work on so many fronts with little results wore me down. I wondered if writing was even the right field for me anymore. Perhaps I’d do better as a receptionist. For sure I could be courteous, speedy and efficient when transferring telephone calls.

“Are you having a midlife crisis?” asked one very appalled friend.

And just when I was ready to trade my keyboard for a dolly to stock shelves at BJ’s, the standstill ended.

Because I was in a do-or-die mode, I brought my A game to the Florida Writers Conference recently and met with agents and publishers to pitch The Height of Power: Petite Women Speak of Stature. Months before, I had encapsulated my book concept into an essay, which I entered in its literary awards competition. The caliber of writing in that well-run organization is very high. I thought any placement might make me more attractive to a potential agent.

It took First Place for unpublished essay.

At the conference, an agent and a publisher both expressed interest in my book and asked to see a proposal. The agent said, “Well, I thought I’ve heard everything, but your idea sounds very original.”

Yet another agent invited me to talk to her about the possibility of writing a spirituality-connected-to-wellness book. “My ears pricked up when I heard you were a syndicated columnist,” she told me.

On the home front, I returned to an invitation for me to speak about writing, which offered a four-figure speaker’s fee. What?! Surprisingly, it was not before a writing organization or journalism school. It was for nurses. When I called and said, “I’m not familiar with medical writing.” The contact said, “No, but you’re very engaging and we want someone to inspire us to write and to give some basics on how to write better.”

My mind reeled at this untapped market.

Now the hard work begins for me to write a compelling book proposal. I’m now fashioning writing workshops geared to an entirely different kind of writer. After all, the foundation of any writing is to tell a story well. I do that and you do, too.

On the TV front, many of my columnist colleagues have much bigger, more professional TV shows on major channels. But I have learned that local access, in many places, is crying out for content and will do the camera and production work for free. What a terrific start and who knows who will ultimately view it on the Internet?

Every one of us is well versed in conveying information accurately, for ferreting out the fresh angle and for infusing personality into our writing voice.

Each one of us has a special expertise that could be parlayed into a non-fiction book, a specialty workshop, or even a TV or radio program.

I must be patient and persevere. Writing is what I love, what you love. I remember Art Buchwald once said to me, “What else am I qualified to do?”

So I’ve stopped circling want ads for dog walkers. Am I offering you a foolproof formula for financial success? No, silly. I’m sharing with you something much more valuable: hope and encouragement.

Contact Suzette Standring via her website: www.readsuzette.com.

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