All posts by Helen Gallagher

Where/how do you track ideas?

We come up with plenty of great ideas, but when it comes time to pitch to an editor, those fragments seem to vanish into thin air.

Or, if you’re like me, you hit on an idea and say “I should pitch this to,” but the core of the idea is lost before you have time to develop it.

ideasThe solution?

Write them down, no matter how small the idea seems, and when you get time, start to query the markets where you think you could sell a piece on the topic. As you formulate the query, your idea will take shape if there is any substance to it. If not, the process of starting the query may help you find another idea.

Whether you write ideas on paper, or do a voice reminder in your phone, you could be putting those ideas to work. You can use a small notebook, an online tool like the popular, or a sticky-note on your dashboard.

In querying editors at magazines,

1. Start by reading their submission guidelines, often listed under the “About” or “Contact” tab of their site.

2. Read through their features and articles online to see if your idea has been covered recently

3. Note their preferred formatting for headlines, bullet points, graphics, links, and style.

I often find better response to a query if I write more than just a brief pitch. If I include enough material to get the editor to keep reading, chances are good that I’ll either get a reason for the rejection, or “Please send the article.” That’s the part I like best about querying!

If it gets rejected, choose a market on your second tier list, tweak the query a bit further, and try again. The #1 reason for rejection is pitching an idea to the wrong market.  You can save yourself lots of wasted time by making sure you follow the three steps above, so your queries look as close as possible to what the editor wants to see.

Besides going through this exercise and spending quality time with your work, you’ve now saved your original idea, and can add some research or rewrite to turn it into a profitable essay or guest blog post, and make some money on it.

So, don’t sweat the query process, but do sweat the details. Get everything right, from the editor’s name, to the focused, tight pitch, and you might make a sale or two off of your idea. So track those fragments, stay curious, and use your imagination. It may lead to a quick sale.

How do you track and manage your ideas? Leave a comment with your best strategy.

Good writing!

BIO: Helen Gallagher shares her advice and ideas on small business and technology at Her blogs and books are accessible through She is a member of ASJA, Small Publishers Artists & Writers Network, and several great Chicago-area writing groups.

An Agent’s View on Platform Building

I’m currently writing up a review of Sell Your Book Like Wildfire: The Writer’s Guide to Marketing and Publicity, by Rob Eagar. It offers a fresh take on author marketing, in part because Eagar is a marketing consultant, as well as an author.  He includes interviews with experts in the publishing, including this wisdom from literary agent, Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary Agency, regarding an author’s platform:

“First, authors need to assess what kind of writer they are, who their target audience is, and how that audience is typically reached.”

fruitloopsThat’s right. Put down your cereal bowl, pour another cup of coffee, and figure out how to honestly profile your ideal reader before spending any money on marketing your writing.

Gardner then goes on to suggest you begin with perhaps three platform building strategies, such as blogging, public speaking and social media. She cautions it takes time to build a platform, and it “should grow out of who you are and feel natural for you.”

Author Rob Eagar also advises:

“With over one million new books published each year, the world doesn’t need more authors who just write their books. Rather, the world needs more authors who know how to get their books in front of more readers.”

BIO: Helen Gallagher blogs at to share her thoughts on small business and technology. She writes about, coaches and speaks on publishing. Her blogs and books are accessible through Helen is a member of ASJA, Small Publishers Artists & Writers Network (, and several great Chicago-area writing groups.

Why you still need a good website

We blog, tweet and keep in touch with friends on Facebook, but is it enough? Not if you want to appear professional and gain more freelance work.

Before you can snag a great assignment, you need a clean, organized way to impress an editor, who most likely is in a big hurry.

webscreensEditors work with dozens of people on a daily basis. When they are ready to hand out an assignment, they often view writers websites to see work samples.  They do not want to view your Facebook page, check your status, look at baby pictures, or read a stream of tweets about what your friends are doing.

A good portfolio means business

Editors look for a freelancer with a professional portfolio, giving them the confidence to hire you to write for them. They want to know you’re serious about work, not about spending time the beach. They want to see samples of recent work, so they know they can count on you.

At a minimum a writer’s or artist’s portfolio should include:

  1. Credentials
  2. Expertise
  3. Recent work
  4. References
  5. How to get in touch

What about a blog?

A blog is a great tool for a free website equivalent. Most people blog at or, both of which are free. You can choose a style that replicates a website with pages and tabs. However most blogs intentionally list new content in chronological order with the newest posts at the top. That can be disorienting to a visitor expecting to easily find your credentials, work samples, etc. A blog, separate from the one you use socially, can be styled to remain static, rather that showing posts and updates. Search a few templates at blogger or wordpress and you’ll find some are suitable to replace a website.

Here is a brief masthead sample, using the ‘mimbo pro’ design at Looks just like a website, doesn’t it?

If a blog template won’t do, then expect to pay $200-300 if you can’t do a site on your own. Most web designers will take on a small client for a five-page site in that price range.

Some freelance organizations offer free or low-cost member sites as part of their benefits. If you belong to a national author/writer group, such as, check their member benefit list.

Free web  templates from sites like 1&,, and

Social media is fine for keeping in touch with colleagues and friends, but your website is the best chance you have to make a good impression.

Give yourself a cohesive predictable place to display your credentials, show clips of recent work, state your preference for types of media you work in, and make it easy for an editor to hire you for your next assignment.

I maintain one site for my tech business, one for assistance with self-publishing, and one specifically for my freelance work. It shows editors exactly why they might want to hire me for a specific assignment, and includes a brief tagline that assures them I’m reliable. Curious, visit and then comment here to share your own writer’s website.

A clean, informative website makes it easy for editors to turn to you again and again. It showcases your work to get your more business, and invites referrals when an editor wants to pass your information on to a colleague.

Social Media’s Gender Divide

onlinescrnMost would agree, women talk more than men, so perhaps it won’t surprise you that social media is largely a female bastion  — It sometimes seems like a barren wasteland of men.

Turns out though, men have their own conversation style, so they tend to stay clustered with other men; just as women like friending and chatting with their female peers.

Gender Demographics in Writers

Perhaps this is just natural, and follows other trends; such as male’s history of earning higher wages than females, and more top journalists are male. Most top authors are male, too, and a handful of the top blogs are by men, but they don’t seem to work at staying visible like women often do.

Even book reviewers, I’ve recently learned, are more males than females. The New York Times, for example, in a 2010 statistic showed reviews by male authors totaled 524, and only 283 by females. Similar disparities exist for male/female writers at The Atlantic.


Pin Agency, a California marketing firm, calls this “Mars and Venus in the Blogosphere,” where Technorati ranked top blogs. No.1 was Arianna Huffington’s The Huffington Post (which is actually a liberal news website and not really a blog per se) as its most influential blog but only one other blog (Dooce) owned by a woman, was among the 30 top-earners.

On a lighter note, they quote:

There are more male bloggers because of the so-called male answer syndrome (MAS), which apparently is the tendency of dudes to always have an opinion, even in subjects that they know little or nothing about. “Guys seek thrills and speed. They go for the adrenalin rush. They get pumped by going higher, faster, farther than anyone else. They want lots of action and instant gratification. That’s also why guys like blogging – instant opinions, and lots of them. Men clearly have an urge to blog that women lack,” says The Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente.

Pinstripes on Pinterest

And Pinterest?  Forget about finding men there. Over 80 percent of current users in the U.S. are female. In the U.K., the balance flips, with only 44 percent female, and the 66 percent of males who do use Pinterest are wealthier. has long been known as a man cave, with 80 percent male users, but the company says it is now trending to 60/40 male/female users.

Dig around if this gender divide is of interest to you. Now that we’re aware of this difference, we can aim to become more inclusive. We can write in a voice that appeals to both genders. Remember, too, on social media, that we have friends of both genders so our comments and updates should be of interest to both.

Write… no excuses

With only 26 letters in the English alphabet, why are there days when we just can’t get the words out?

The poet, Mary Oliver, says: “The voice is working in us all the time. You have to be there when you have promised.”

The work of a writer requires true dedication to the art and craft of what we do. That sense of commitment is what sustains us when we are battling deadlines or slogging through long manuscripts. We’re in this for the long haul and it can get tiresome.

What to do?
1. First, honor your commitment. One way or another you’ve got to get the words out, meet the deadline, and turn in good work.

2. Change your focus. When I recently felt I could not edit a manuscript for one more minute, I switched to indexing which felt like play-time. It was so easy to handle a clerical task just for a while. And the sense of accomplishment made it easier to drag myself back to page 183, knowing I was at least half-way done with the editing.

3. Trick yourself. Use a timer, break your task into small manageable goals, or raid the candy jar. Just break the cycle for a minute or two and get back to work.

4. Exercise. WebMD notes that exercise is the best remedy for fatigue.
“It’s now been shown in many studies that once you actually start moving around — even just getting up off the couch and walking around the room — the more you will want to move, and, ultimately, the more energy you will feel,” says Robert E. Thayer, PhD, a psychology professor at California State University, Long Beach, and author of the book Calm Energy: How People Regulate Mood With Food.

bikeIn a study published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics in 2008, University of Georgia researchers found that inactive folks who normally complained of fatigue could increase energy by 20% while decreasing fatigue by as much as 65% by simply participating in regular, low-intensity exercise.

Thayer says that many Americans, particularly “achievement-oriented Type A people” have “tense energy” — an effective state that allows you to get lots of work done, but that can quickly move into tense-tiredness, a negative state often associated with depression.

On the other hand, what he calls “calm energy” is a combination of a high physical and mental energy level, paired with low physical tension. It is this state, he says, that offers more long-lasting energy. And, he says, it can be achieved with the right kind of exercise.

“What summarizes the relationship best is moderate exercise — like a 10- or 15-minute walk — has the primary effect of increased energy, while very intense exercise — like working out at the gym, 45 minutes of treadmill — has the primary effect of at least temporarily reducing energy, because you come away tired,” he says.

BIO: Helen Gallagher blogs at to share her thoughts on small business and technology. She writes and speaks on publishing. Her blogs and books are accessible through Helen is a member of ASJA, Small Publishers Artists & Writers Network, and several great Chicago-area writing groups.

Seth Godin: on reality

I don’t know what it takes to become a ‘guru’ anymore, in this age of overnight sensations. But Seth Godin is indeed a freelancer’s guru. Author of many powerful books, some of which he gives away, Godin gets to the point of making money as a writer. He reminds us that it requires patience to succeed, to build a career, to make good money. He should know: He’s written a dozen best-selling books, now translated into 33 languages!


We read all about ways to work smarter, save money, do faster research,  get more assignments, but we don’t all have the sense of commitment required to stick to our genius plans. We might rev up for a few days and then get distracted, waste time reading, cafe hopping, and fall back into the idle time waiting for the next assignment to fall from the sky. If you want someone you can turn to in a flash, visit Seth Godin’s blogs, download his ebooks, learn from him, and find a simple path to staying focused and getting ahead without falling backwards again, time after time.

He believe that if you’re patient, success comes, but it is drip, drip, drip, and then the last drip proves once and for all that you were doing the right thing all along.

It still takes ten years to become a success, web or no web. The frustrating part is that you see your tactics fail right away. The good news is that over time, you get the satisfaction of watching those tactics succeed right away.

Get a free copy of some of Seth Godin’s books here. Some of his minimalist wisdom is meant for speed reading, other notions will stay with you forever, such as this piece on getting things done,

The key to the reinvention of who you are, then, is to become someone who ships (as in ‘get the work out’). The goal is to have the rare skill of actually getting things done, making them happen and creating outcomes that people seek out.

If you are in need of immediate motivation, download the PDF of his Bootstrapper’s Bible here.  It includes a manifesto you can tape to your bathroom mirror. Feel better now?

BIO: Helen Gallagher blogs at to share her thoughts on small business and technology. She writes and speaks on publishing. Her blogs and books are accessible through Helen is a member of ASJA, Small Publishers Artists & Writers Network, and several great Chicago-area writing groups.