Posts filed under Journalism

Robin Epley: Magazine Section Editor

Name: Robin Epley

Age: 26

College & Majors/Minors: California State University, Chico: B.A. in English Literature, B.A in Journalism, News/Editorial Option, Minor in History

Current Location: Sacramento, CA

Current Form of Employment: Magazine Section Editor

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I currently work for Comstock's magazine in Sacramento, CA. It's a monthly regional business magazine that covers 10 counties in and around Sacramento. I am the Special Sections Editor, which means I conceive, pitch, write and/or assign 3-5 stories every month that have to do with a special topic — last month we covered a specific county, next month we're solely covering architecture, so it varies a lot.

Some people would call this "advertorial" journalism, in that we sell ads against the stories in this section and also I work with the Sales team here to come up with the best topic for that month. But the stories are 99% my ideas and my or my writers' execution. I also am a feature writer, which means that often, I'll write one of the 4-5 feature stories for the magazine. My first feature for Comstock's ended up being the July cover story! Additionally, my work as an editor means I'm reading articles for most of my day and copyediting them, which can span anywhere from a 500-word blog to a 5,000-word feature article. I can often be found with a red pen in hand, and I hoard them from my coworkers!

 My first day at Comstock's! :)

My first day at Comstock's! :)

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

My first writing gig was as a weekend reporter at my college town's daily paper. Obviously, the regular reporters don't want to work on Saturdays and Sundays, so they would hire a journalism student from the college to fill in those days. I worked at that job for the last 2.5 years of college, every single weekend. I'd usually have a photographer with me and would cover 4-5 local stories. Sometimes it was just re-writing press releases, but I often did on-the-spot news reporting and covered emergencies. I actually saw 2 dead bodies at that job (at separate times) and got shot at for driving too close to someone's pot farm up in the boonies of Oroville. (Technically they were shooting into the air to warn me/other reporters and responders away... but still!)

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

I'd have to say my freelance writing has always been really important to me and my career. I moved to Boston after college for a few years and really struggled with the freelance life. I ended up taking a lot of retail and waitressing gigs just to pay the bills. But I have always wanted to be a writer and editor and I knew I'd make it happen someday. When I moved back to Sacramento a year and a half ago, (where I'm from, originally) I got hooked up with some local journalists who really made an effort to make sure I had connections and opportunities, and I will always be grateful for their help. I got my current job at Comstock's because one of those journalists set me up freelancing there, before I ever even considered applying for an editor position. It was the freelancing that I think got me the job, because they knew my work and what I was capable of. I still freelance for various sites, including a tech-in-government site and Bustle.com.

“It was the freelancing that I think got me the job, because they knew my work and what I was capable of.”
 This very green photo was taken by the newspaper photographer while I was on an assignment at a soup kitchen in college. I was probably 20 years old? 

This very green photo was taken by the newspaper photographer while I was on an assignment at a soup kitchen in college. I was probably 20 years old? 

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

Just write. Write so, so much. Even if it's horrible awful stuff that you'd never show to anyone, even if it's a poem about how your big toe hurts today, write write write. My favorite song from Hamilton is "Non-Stop" for those few lines that go: "How do you write like tomorrow won't arrive, how do you write like you need it to survive, how do you write every second you're alive?" I feel like that's what writing should be like. You should need to burn with the need to write if you're going to make it as a writer today. I write journalism but I'm also a storyteller and an author and constantly running social media projects on the side. The more you write, the better you will become, and the better you are in college, the more opportunities you'll have after. Also, and I can't say this strongly enough, hook yourself up with some people who are already in the industry. Who you know just as important as what you know.

By the way, lest you think, "Oh, she has a journalism degree and is a journalist, what's she talking about her English degree for?" I have to tell you that I use my English degree every single day. English taught me how to tell stories. It taught me how to recognize good writers and good writing. It taught me what to look for when I feel something is missing from my writers' stories and most of all, it taught me how to sharply hone my skills in grammar and the technicalities of style — I use those skills every day as a journalist.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

Someone once told me that if I could see myself as happy doing anything else, I should go do that instead. It seemed really harsh but I get what they mean now: Being a writer (and by extension here, a journalist) is HARD. People will laugh at your degree, they will tell you what you are doing is useless, they will try to trip you up and stop you from doing what you love. Instead of letting them stop you, let that disdain fuel you. Let it be the fire underneath you to prove them wrong. I don't care if it takes you 20 years after college to become a successful writer, because I know how hard it is and how hard you must have worked to finally achieve your goals. Anyone else who cares to call themselves a writer will understand too. And trust me, when you buy your first set of business cards with your name and "Writer" underneath it, it's worth everything. <3

To check out Comstock's magazine, click here. Be sure to also check out Millennials in Media, a mentorship program founded by Robin. You can follow Robin herself on Twitter and Instagram, as well as through her side project, Drunk Austen. You can follow Millennials in Media on Twitter and Instagram. You can also follow Drunk Austen, Robin's side project, on Twitter and Instagram here and here.


Posted on October 6, 2016 and filed under Writing, Journalism, Editing.

Rhonda Crowder: Writer, Editor, Journalist

Name: Rhonda Crowder

Age: 42

College & Majors/Minors: Cleveland State University, Bachelor of Arts in English with specialization in creative writing, editing and publishing/minor in psychology

Current Location: Cleveland, Ohio

Current Form of Employment: I work for a newspaper in addition to owning a business.

Where do you work and what is your current position? 

I work for the Call & Post newspaper, an African American-owned weekly based in Cleveland, Ohio, as a general assignment reporter. Because I often find myself working outside of my job description, through this position, I learn so much about writing as well as the business of writing. It truly broadened my perspective of what a person with an English degree can do. Although low-paying, this position provides me with a lot of opportunity, connections and freedom to working on other projects. I use my salary as a base and my other work brings up the rear.

“I never thought of my business growing beyond my own freelance work until I took the Partnership for Minority Business Acceleration (PMBA) class at the Akron Urban League. At that point, my eyes opened to how bad the business world needs skilled writers.”

Realizing I am in the writing business while remembering my propensity for entrepreneurship from as far back as selling lemonade in my preteens, this position led me to start my own business, a communications firm that now provides content creation, graphic design, sales, and media relations services. My clients range from small publishing companies and media outlets to independent authors and small business owners. I had been freelancing since I graduated college, but started Rhonda Crowder and Associates, LLC in 2011 as a result of needing to report my 1099 earnings. I never thought of my business growing beyond my own freelance work until I took the Partnership for Minority Business Acceleration (PMBA) class at the Akron Urban League. At that point, my eyes opened to how bad the business world needs skilled writers. I remember sitting there and saying to myself, "I can do business with everyone in this room, but everyone in the room can't say that." 

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

Trust me. I’ve worked plenty of non career-related jobs. Regardless to how bad they sucked, I learned something from each that I use today. My first paid writing gig was Arts and Entertainment Editor for my college newspaper, if that counts. Being a leadership position, it paid a stipend. I was tunnel vision on writing books, movies and plays. I never considered journalism. However, I tried it, got bit by the bug and became more serious about being a writer. After graduating, I didn’t pursue journalism. I maintained my desire to be an author. The only problem with that, I needed a job.

“In casual conversation, I told him I was a writer looking for work and had just been declined by his organization. Long story short, I met with the editor and they made me in offer.”

With my current position, I initially walked in off the street, asked if they were hiring and was told no. I thought no more of it. But by chance, I attended a book club meeting held at the newspaper a few weeks later and met the president. In casual conversation, I told him I was a writer looking for work and had just been declined by his organization. Long story short, I met with the editor and they made me in offer. Knowing I could barely survive off of it and desperately wanting to get paid to write, I took it. That’s one of the best decisions I ever made.  

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

My work at the Call & Post led to me being offered a contracted position to serve as associate publisher of Who’s Who in Black Cleveland. Who’s Who in Black Cleveland is a product of Who’s Who Publishing/Real Times Media. The organization highlights the successes of African American in our 25 different markets. In this role, I am the organization’s liaison to the Cleveland, Akron and Canton markets. I do everything from help shape the thematic direction of an edition and nominate honorees to producing an annual book unveiling event. This position is important because it puts value on that English degree. It shows organizations that I can do more than the perceived “sitting around playing with words all day.”     

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

First and foremost, I focused on the learning the craft. I stayed engaged in projects or with professors. That helps connect you to opportunities or at least obtain a great recommendation letter. I worked on the college newspaper and other literary publications on campus. In hindsight, I should have done more off campus internships early and as often as possible.

“...An English degree alone today is not enough. It is an excellent foundation, but you’ll need to couple it with something technical or be an out-of-the-box thinker to make yourself more marketable. You can no longer think of yourself as just a writer.”

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

You may realize it or not, but your English degree gives you an advantage. You can do more than what you imagine with an English degree once you understand its value and how to use it. As an English major, you are extremely creative and an analytical thinker. You can solve problems most are unable detect. At the same time, an English degree alone today is not enough. It is an excellent foundation, but you'll need to couple it with something technical or be an out-of-the-box thinker to make yourself more marketable. You can no longer think of yourself as just a writer. You'll need to know how to do other things. You also need to understand, whether you like it or not, you are in business and you must think of what you do as such. You sell words, at the least. Learn how to put a value on what you do and don't be afraid to demand it.

To learn more about Rhonda Crowder visit www.rhondacrowderllc.com. She can also be found on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and Instragram.  You can find articles by Rhonda at www.rhondacrowder.contently.com


Posted on July 14, 2016 and filed under Interview, Interviews, Journalism, Writer, Writing, Publishing.

Angela Nixon: Speechwriter

Name: Angela Nixon    

Age: 39

College & Majors/Minors: Clemson University, Bachelor of Arts in English, with a minor in technical writing (1999); also earned a Master of Arts in Professional Communication from Clemson in 2001

Current Location: Live in Seneca, SC; work in Clemson, SC

Current Form of Employment: Speechwriter

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I work at Clemson University as the speechwriter for the university president. I also assist the president’s office with other communication needs, such as correspondence.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

My first “real” job out of graduate school was at Clemson in the Media Relations office. I was finishing up graduate school and had been applying for jobs for months, mostly looking at technical writing jobs (because that’s what I thought I wanted to do at the time). I was not having any luck at all with it and was getting really discouraged. I saw that the university’s media relations office was hiring someone to do media relations/PR work for the Division of Student Affairs. It wasn’t what I envisioned myself doing forever, and I really never planned to stay at Clemson after graduation, but I decided to apply. I got the job, mostly based on my knowledge and familiarity with the university and the fact that as an undergraduate, I had held two internships at a newspaper as a reporter. They were looking for someone who could write press releases in the style of news stories, so it was really the newspaper internships that got my foot in the door.

“They were looking for someone who could write press releases in the style of news stories, so it was really the newspaper internships that got my foot in the door.”

My current job as the president’s speechwriter happened fairly recently, in January 2015. Our president came to Clemson in 2014. The speechwriter for the previous president was retiring, so there was an opening to fill, and a need to get it filled quickly, as the president has a LOT of speaking engagements. I expressed an interest in the position and before I knew it, I had been promoted into the job. It was really important to have someone in this position who knows Clemson University backwards and forwards, especially since our president was relatively new. After being a student here and then an employee for nearly 14 years, my institutional knowledge, combined with my abilities as a writer, were what helped me get the job.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

I mentioned it in my previous answer, but my internships at my local newspaper were definitely important in my career. I think it is safe to say that I never would have been hired to work in Clemson’s Media Relations office without that experience. The summer of my junior year in college I got an internship with my hometown newspaper, The Index-Journal, in Greenwood, SC. It is a daily paper, but it is a small daily, so the interns are treated like normal staff reporters. I was assigned a beat to cover and I was out there every day finding stories, interviewing people, writing stories, just like the full-time staff. It definitely was not an internship that involved making copies or getting people coffee. I was filing multiple stories a day, as well as taking photos for my stories, as the paper did not have a staff photographer at that time. (I also learned how to develop film, as this was in the dark ages of 1998, before digital photography was common.)

“Sometimes internships are valuable because they help you figure out what you don’t want to do with your career.”

The summer after I graduated, I interned at the same newspaper, but this time I was in the sports department, an experience that allowed me to add skills such as “keeping box scores for baseball” to my resume. Those two internships taught me so much about working under constant deadlines, how to interview people, how to find stories and pitch them to an editor, dealing with confrontational people (because not every news story is positive, of course, and not everyone wants to be interviewed), and lots of other great skills, in addition to developing my writing skills. Just as importantly, those internship experiences taught me that I did NOT want a career in journalism. Sometimes internships are valuable because they help you figure out what you don’t want to do with your career.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

This one is a little difficult for me, simply because I don’t remember doing anything special to prepare for life after college. I did the internships that I mentioned above, I worked hard in my classes, and I also was involved in one student organization at Clemson — Central Spirit, which is like Clemson’s version of a “pep club” to support athletics. I became president of Central Spirit my senior year, which gave me a taste of leadership experience, and it allowed me to interact with university staff members and administrators more than most students probably do. It was a valuable experience for me. But my “post-grad life” consisted of immediately going to graduate school, which was always my plan, so I didn’t feel like I needed to do much to really prepare for it.

I will say this — graduate school was a completely different experience than being an undergraduate. My master’s program is also housed in the English Department at Clemson, so I figured it would be something of an extension of my undergraduate experience. I was so wrong. The level of rigor and sheer amount of work involved in graduate school was so much higher than it was for me as an undergraduate, and that was something I was not prepared for at all. I had a very difficult time adjusting to the workload and having a graduate assistantship at the same time. It was very overwhelming for me. I also did not have a clear idea of what I wanted to do with my master’s degree, so I felt a bit rudderless at times, which didn’t help. I was putting in all of this work, but I wasn’t sure what the end result would be. Looking back, I should have done more research on graduate degrees, both the requirements to earn a degree and which degree I really wanted. I don’t regret going to graduate school, I just wish I had been better prepared for it.

“Don’t get discouraged. The communication and critical thinking skills you are honing right now are so important, and critical thinking is a topic that is sorely lacking in a lot of disciplines right now. That’s what you’re learning, and it is something that employers do value.”

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

My number one piece of advice for English majors or recent graduates is this: don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you cannot find a job with an English degree. Don’t get discouraged. The communication and critical thinking skills you are honing right now are so important, and critical thinking is a topic that is sorely lacking in a lot of disciplines right now. That’s what you’re learning, and it is something that employers do value.

My other piece of advice is to keep an open mind about your career path and be willing to try things that may not be exactly in line with what you think you want to do. My original goal when I changed my major to English (I started out as a biology major, if you can believe that) was to become a technical writer. Looking back, I’m not sure why I chose that career path, but that’s what I wanted at the time. I minored in it, and I thought I had chosen a graduate program that would lend itself to a career in technical writing. But when I had an opportunity to intern at the newspaper, I decided to do it, just to try something new and to have some kind of relevant work experience for my resume. It wasn’t my dream job by a long shot, but it gave me the experience I needed to get a job after graduate school. I never envisioned myself in a public relations kind of job, and I certainly NEVER thought I would be writing speeches for the president of a major university, but I have loved my career so far, and now I can’t imagine being happy as a technical writer. Had I not tried those internships in journalism, though, none of it ever would have happened, and who knows where I would have ended up? So my advice is to not limit yourself to one specific career path and to be open to new experiences … because you never know where those other paths might lead. 


Posted on April 4, 2016 and filed under Public Relations, Journalism, Interviews, Interview.

Judi Ketteler: Freelance Writer

Name: Judi Ketteler

Age: 41

College & Majors/Minors: English Major/Anthropology Minor (B.A. from Northern Kentucky University); I also have an M.A. in English from Miami University of Ohio

Current Location: Cincinnati, Ohio

Current Form of Employment: Freelance Writer

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I’ve been self-employed for 14 years. I work as a full-time freelance writer. That’s meant different things throughout the years. At one time, my focus was primarily writing for magazines. Now, I do mostly content marketing writing and copywriting, working for corporate clients (and some small businesses). I’ve been able to successfully support myself through writing all these years! Not only that, my husband is a stay-at-home dad, and for nearly eight years, I’ve been supporting the whole family!

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job.

My first job out of graduate school was a sales job at a trade industry magazine. I found it through a newspaper listing. Searching for jobs online wasn’t really much of a thing yet (this was 1999!). I only took the job because I thought I could work my way into editorial. I HATED the job. I didn’t want to sell banner ads for web sites (remember, this was 1999, and banner ads were all the rage). I only stayed six months. Everything about the job was terrible, except for the people I met! I made friends at that first job that I still have today. So, in the end, something good came out of it!

I started freelancing in 2002, after I got laid off twice in row, six months apart. I had been working as a copywriter at a design firm. I liked the job a lot, but when the economy took a turn for the worst in the summer of 2001, I got laid off. I found another job right away, helping a start-up nonprofit in the tech world with marketing. That job only lasted six months, because after 9/11 happened, the tech world was devastated. Non-profits definitely didn’t have any money!

When I lost that job in spring of 2002, I was 27 years old, and about to buy my first house. I was crushed and had to pull the offer for the house (my layoff literally happened the day after I made an offer)! It turned out to be a blessing, because I was able to take the money that would have been my downpayment, and use it to start freelancing. I had no idea what I was doing at first! I had been writing on the side for the local newspapers. I kept doing that, but then also started pitching stories to national magazines (which paid exponentially better than local publications).

I felt my way along, and soon was writing for many women’s magazines (SELF, Shape, Health, Women’s Health, Runner’s World, Better Homes and Gardens, plus, a smattering of web sites). I also had some agency connections because of my time working for the design firm, so I landed some good freelance copywriting gigs. When the magazine industry took a big hit around 2009 - 2010, I moved away from magazine writing and focused most of my attentions on copywriting. That’s where I am now! I partner with lots of content marketing agencies and web design firms. I have small business clients, too, and I help with everything from social media to branding to advising on web design. I’ve also written a non-fiction book, Sew Retro (2010), and I partnered with a company to co-write another book, The Spoonflower Handbook (2015). I’m currently working with my agent on a young adult novel. 

“It’s been a really great ride so far, and I never imagined that I could make such a good living by writing, including years when I’ve made six figures. I had no idea that ‘freelance writer’ was a job when I was in school.”

It’s been a really great ride so far, and I never imagined that I could make such a good living by writing, including years when I've made six figures. I had no idea that “freelance writer” was a job when I was in school. I didn’t really have any model either. I just made it up as I went along, and found the resources and mentors I needed as I went. 

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

I mentioned that I worked as a copywriter at a design firm. That was a really crucial thing, because it’s how I learned the ropes of copywriting. The only writing experience I had coming out of grad school was academic. So, I knew a lot about 19th century women’s fiction, but I didn’t know much about how to write for everyday consumers. I had to learn by doing. Copywriting really is an art. Not all “good” writers can do it. You have to set aside ego and figure out how to clearly communicate to a target audience. I learned to do this by working at that design firm. I never could have freelanced without learning those basics!

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

Honestly, I wasn’t much concerned with preparing for post-grad life when I was in college, or graduate school for that matter! I concentrated on learning as much as I could, and getting as much out of every class that I could! Looking back, I can see all kinds of ways that I was building skills in college. For example, deadlines! In my world, I wouldn’t get repeat work from clients if I didn’t know how to meet deadlines. In college, I learned the importance of turning papers in on time—and that skill has served me well! 

Also, the ability to research, to follow a footnote or a thread of something—that curiosity has taken me to some fantastic places, professionally-speaking. I had such great professors in college. They encouraged me to follow my interests and work on developing my own ideas about books, characters, theories, etc. I still use the critical thinking and discernment skills I learned by reading texts and criticism (and then writing about texts and criticism). Critical thinking is a big part of any story or project: knowing what to include (and why), what to leave out, what to edit, when to dig deeper into, when to push back, etc. 

“No time is ever wasted if you are learning new things. Sometimes it’s a seemingly small thing, but you never know how it may play out in your career!”

In terms of the craft of writing, my college and grad school classes definitely taught me the importance of voice. One of my strengths as a writer is my voice—specifically, my ability to craft the right voice for the project. How could I have learned that if hadn’t been exposed to such a diversity of voices, from Virginia Woolf to Herman Melville?

I think there is a social aspect, too: learning to have intelligent, respectful discussions with peers. I was very shy in college, so I probably didn’t really bloom in this area until graduate school. But the ability to contribute to discussions in a thoughtful way—that’s been so important in my career, and it’s helped me network and develop really key business relationships.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

You may stumble upon the perfect job right away, or, like me, it may be a series of stops and starts, and then a bit of luck and timing and going for it. Try to take something from each experience. No time is ever wasted if you are learning new things. Sometimes it’s a seemingly small thing, but you never know how it may play out in your career! Also, do as much networking and connecting with other people as you can. I’m talking face to face conversations! I love social media (especially LinkedIn), and have made quality connections that way, of course. But never underestimate the power of showing up in person and having a good conversation. Sometimes, I think I owe the success of my career to my ability to have a really good conversation with someone.

You can see Judi's work on her website, www.judiketteler.com


Posted on February 17, 2016 and filed under Writing, Freelance, Copywriting, Journalism, Publishing, Self-Employed.

Felicia Clark: Communication Specialist

Name: Felicia Clark

Age: 27

College & Majors/Minors: Journalism/Creative Writing

Current Location: Appleton, WI

Current Form of Employment: Marketing agency

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I work for Candeo Creative (a marketing agency in Oshkosh, WI) as communication specialist where I post social media content for clients.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

I was a senior in college at UW-Oshkosh when I landed my first job as a copy editor at the Oshkosh Northwestern (Gannett) newspaper. I was a proofreader for Oshkosh Corporation in the Oshkosh Defense Bid & Proposal department, working 90 hours per week editing government documents. I then worked for Shop Local Appleton, Oshkosh, Green Bay (and everything in between) as the community social media manager. That's when I found the communication specialist position open at Candeo Creative. In just three short months I went from being part time to full time.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

My first taste of marketing, since I was strictly a journalism major, was when I brought a Danish documentary called Free the Mind to Appleton Marcus Cinemas. It was a video that followed veterans suffering with PTSD as they took an intensive meditation course that changed their lives. It was so inspiring that I signed up to show it, knowing I needed at least 77 tickets before the theatre would play it for an audience. By the end of the month, after marketing my own event, I had 170-plus attendees and the cinemas gave me a larger room! I also found the veterans who were in the film and brought them out as a surprise for a Q&A session after the film. All the money donated went Dryhootch Fox Valley. This became one of the most important moments in both my personal and professional life. I had discovered my passion for the marketing world!

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

I gained leaderships skills in college by running student organizations, taking 18-19 credits per semester on top of two paying jobs, including writing two articles per week for the student-run newspaper (the Advance-Titan). Juggling so many activities at once helped me learn prioritization skills and reach any deadline, no matter how short.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

  • Don't give up and be willing to leave your comfort zone to try new things. You never know where these little adventures will take you. 
  • Between each of the jobs I had in my field, I was typically working another entry level position to pay my bills. From waitressing to barista to canvasser to bookseller, I became a jack-of-all-trades, which helps me understand clients I am now marketing in my current job. Those "insignificant jobs" prepared me for the next. It took me nearly 5 years after graduation to land my dream job. You have to trust that the right job will come along.

Visit Felicia Clark at MeasureLifeInBookmarks.com for more details on her writing journey!

Posted on November 17, 2014 and filed under Communications, Editing, Journalism, Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media.

Amy Braunschweiger: Web Communications Manager @ Human Rights Watch

Name: Amy Braunschweiger

Age: 39

College & Majors/Minors: English and German major/European studies minor

Current Location: NYC

Current Form of Employment: Web Communications Manager at Human Rights Watch

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I work at Human Rights Watch as their web communications manager–I basically work as their feature writer, do a lot of editing, and I’m part of a team that oversees strategy and execution for all our digital properties, including our website, social media, e-newsletters, other digital projects, etc. What I do is storytelling, often using words together with photos and video. I work with people who are lawyers and human rights experts, so a lot of what I do is translate what I’m told or what I read from political/legalese into language that allows a piece to live and breathe. The information was already there, it was just buried.

I’ve had so many writing and editing jobs I can’t even count, as I was a freelancer for ages.

  • Author: Wrote the book Taxi Confidential: Life, Death and 3 a.m. Revelations in New York City Cabs.
  • Freelance article writer: Had fun, fabulous articles published in awesome places like the New York Times, New York magazine, Worth, etc. At the Village Voice I lead a team of writers to create 3,000 or so nightlife listings/reviews.
  • Freelance less-sexy writer: Had less fun but also sometimes interesting pieces published in steady-paying places like trade magazines for financial professionals, nonprofit newsletters, for investment banks, random financial sites, etc.
  • Ghost writer: Helped ghost write an encyclopedia of American food and wine. (It was never published as the head writer entered something of a downward spiral.)
  • Other odd jobs/gigs that my writing and reporting skills lead to as a freelancer: Had a gig doing background checks on corporate executives (reporting skills); Market research for an arm of Morgan Stanley (interviewing skills); researching how to build schools in Vietnam for a nonprofit (research skills).
  • My only other fulltime job: Was a financial reporter at Dow Jones writing mostly breaking news stories. My feature stories (3% of the job) often made it into the Wall Street Journal. 
  • Stringer at Ohio’s Toledo City Paper: Wrote about nightlife, culture and fun.
  • International: I’ve also had a few fellowships that have allowed me to live in Germany and work at German-language publications. I’m not a native speaker, just lucky and strong-willed.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different). 

I was in my early 20s when I came home to Toledo, Ohio, from a fellowship I had in Germany. I didn’t consider myself a journalist, but I really enjoyed participating in, and writing about, nightlife and the arts (at my college paper, at my internship as an MTV stringer covering Cincinnati’s music scene, at my fellowship in Leipzig, Germany where I worked at their city magazine). But I thought that I was now an adult, and adults wrote about politics and finance, so I should get a job writing about one of those two things. So I lived with my folks, waitressed, drove my mom’s car and spent months applying to “serious” jobs. Somewhere in there, I got dumped, too. It was not a happy time.

My first real full-time job was at Dow Jones Newswires, and getting hired there was crazy. I applied for it, and then called me, did a phone interview, and then asked me if I’d take a 4-hour test in their Detroit Wall Street Journal bureau (Dow Jones also owns the WSJ). I asked them for any tips, and they said brush up on your math, know how to calculate percentages. I did, drove the hour to Detroit, and took the test. It took me an extra hour, but it really wasn’t that bad. They were mostly trying to judge how logical you were—do you compare apples to apples if we give you apples, oranges and bananas? That type of thing. I easily calculated all the answers in the math section, but had I not asked about what to study ahead of time, I would have winged that entire section, and the results could have been grim. Math was never my best subject (understatement). Just as an fyi.

Then Dow Jones let me know that I passed the test and asked me to come in for a 3-day work trial in Jersey City, where they were based. I had to spring for my own plane ticket and lodgings there. Might I add I had zero money? My folks said “No way!” but I went for it anyway, buying a plane ticket and staying with my friend’s parents in a nearby suburb. There, people who were surprisingly young, fun and interesting trained me in financial newswire writing for three days–how to report on earnings, retail sales, airline figures, mergers, etc. Afterwards they had me take yet another five-hour test to see how well you absorbed the training.

You know what? I totally bombed that test. Awfully. But they still hired me. After the fact, one of my editors told me that they liked my international experience, I was smart enough, and–wait for it–I fit into the newsroom personality-wise.  

My take-away: sometimes you just have to go for it, buy your own plane ticket, and go out of your way to get something. Even if the hiring process is ridiculous.

My other take away: I came to embrace what I call the lunchroom rule. You have to have the skills to get in the door, but people really want to hire a co-worker that they can sit down and talk with over lunch with. I bombed that second test and got hired anyway. Why? The lunchroom rule. When I applied to a long-term freelance position at the Village Voice, my resume was plucked out of already short-listed bunch because of the lunchroom rule (the editor was fascinated with Berlin, and I’d lived there), and at Human Rights Watch I was hired over someone more qualified than me because they just liked me better. I’ve seen this play out over and over again both with friends and with myself.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

Freelancing! It taught me how to write differently for different publications, how to change my tone of voice. I learned how to read publications from Elle Magazine to Inc. critically, to figure out what editors wanted or would more likely buy. I learned how to pitch myself and the articles I wanted to write—you need to be able to sell editors your ideas and yourself as an author. After I went quickly broke, I was forced to begin treating writing like a business—you do have to pay rent after all. So while I kept up the fun, fabulous articles that inspired me, I also began picking up more boring, financial work that paid much better and took much less time to write. For me, and for many freelancers, money worries will suck away your creativity and you’ll stop having fun with your writing, and I was constantly balancing my creative work with the better-paying kind. I also learned how to be flexible and mold your skills to various opportunities in ways that others can’t see. Doing corporate background checks? No problem, it’s really just reporting under a different name.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

Not much, to be honest. I had fun, made good friends, drank a lot of beer, etc. I took a couple journalism classes, but didn’t find them interesting or useful. I didn’t even declare a major until I was a junior, and my GPA was a 3.2 or something. I rowed crew for the joy of it for a year or two but quit because those 5 a.m. practices killed me.

OK, wait, now that I think harder, I did do some things. My journalism professor basically forced me to get a job at the student newspaper because “I’d never get a job” if I didn’t. I found the newspaper so boring, and I just couldn’t stomach the fact of covering city council meetings, so I did layout and design for them, which was actually fun. And it paid. I did a bit of entertainment writing for them—bands, DJs.

I did take some other summer internships, but I really only worked at them 5 hours a week or so—I was a full-time waitress in the summers, as I needed to earn money for college. So I squeezed in an internship at a tiny suburban newspaper.

This is important: My junior year I spent a summer working in a bakery in Berlin and I studied for a semester in Luxembourg. How I got to Berlin: A professor was interviewing students to work there, my friend from a German class wanted to go, she didn’t want to do the interview alone, I went to support her, and ended up being offered a job. Since I would already be living in Europe, I decided to study at Miami University’s branch campus in Luxembourg, as it cost the same as my in-state tuition.

Full disclosure—I didn’t this to gain any international experience. I did it because it sounded like a blast and I have an adventurous streak. But it changed everything for me.

I fell in love with Germany, the language, the culture and became obsessed with really learning and experiencing it all. And in learning about what an amazing place Germany is, I realized that every other country in the world could be exactly as amazing and interesting if I were open to it. Despite growing up in an area that really wasn’t very diverse, I fell in love with all things international. I went back (for the love of it) and really learned German. I cannot tell you how many doors this experience has opened up for me, both personally and professionally.

Take away: If you want to live abroad and learn a language, do it. No regrets.

OK, back to college. Senior year, something amazing happened. I was looking for a fall internship on our listservs, scrolling past opportunities to cover city hall and PTA meetings in small town Ohio (I love small town Ohio, but no way), when I saw an internship to be a stringer for MTV online. I applied to cover the music scene in nearby Cincinnati, and to my amazement, landed it. It was unpaid, but I was living the free-concert-ticket dream. It was amazing. I had a blast. And I won a writing award reserved for their top seven stringers across the U.S. (they had 100, I think).

My take away from that internship: You can get work doing what you love to do. Not always, and it won’t work out the way you foresee, but it happens. Next step: getting paid for it.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

You may hate your first job. I sure did. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t learning a lot there. And you’ll learn what you don’t want to do/deal with in your next job. I spent four years at Dow Jones Newswires, and only enjoyed six months of it. It was years after I left that job that I realized how strong a financial reporter I had become. And that job opened up so many doors, too, through connections I made, because most people couldn’t write about finance and I could, and because people automatically took you a bit more seriously—even people at glossy women’s magazines. Who knew? So even if you’re hating it, keep learning.

Take big risks if you have the stomach for it. (Say, when I quit Dow Jones to go freelnace when I had no idea how I would make anything happen). Just also make sure you can stomach the consequences if the worst happens—which for me would have been moving back in with my folks (it didn’t happen).

Figure out what you’re passionate about and stick with it, at least in part. You’re always going to do better at what excites you, and you’ll feed off the energy of it. Just prioritize it. It may not be a full-time job or even a part-time job, but it’ll make you feel good.

Keep talking to people. People, for me, are key. People sometimes know things you don’t know and have opportunities you don’t know about. Are you stuck on your novel? Do some research by talking to people who may be similar to your character, either in job or personality. Are you a journalist out of story ideas? Just start talking to people at a bar, at a party, on a plane—especially talk to people different from you—and listen to them. Story ideas will just appear.

Follow Amy on twitter!

Posted on August 31, 2014 and filed under Freelance, Communications, Journalism, Non-profit, Self-Employed, Writing.

Emily Ladau: Freelance Writer & Disability Rights Advocate

Name: Emily Ladau

Age: 22

College & Majors/Minors: B.A. in English, Adelphi University

Current Location: Long Island, NY

Current Form of Employment: Freelance Writer and Disability Rights Advocate

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I work from my favorite blue armchair in my living room, writing, researching, and emailing my heart out. I am a freelance writer, blogger, social media professional, and most importantly, a disability rights advocate.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

 Emily on Sesame Street.

Emily on Sesame Street.

If you want to get technical, my first job wasn’t writing-related at all. I appeared in several episodes of season 33 of Sesame Street when I was just ten years old. In the years since hanging out with Big Bird and Elmo, I focused on developing my voice as an advocate. For quite some time, my goal was to become an English teacher and incorporate embracing diversity and an attitude of acceptance in my classroom. However, mid-way through college, I found myself gravitating toward the idea of pursuing disability advocacy as a fulltime career.

Majoring in English certainly provided an ideal foundation because it gave me the opportunity to hone my writing and communication skills, both of which are huge facets of being a successful advocate. My skill sets and passion for activism led me to apply for a summer internship in Washington, D.C. with the American Association of People with Disabilities, through which I was placed to work at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities. Not only did this internship prove to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life, but also it set me on my current career path. I was matched with a wonderful mentor who shared her wisdom on blogging with me, ultimately inspiring me to begin my own blog, Words I Wheel By. I’ve been blogging for nearly a year, and it has opened the door for all of the paid writing and social media opportunities that comprise my current work.

You've been published in so many places. How did you go about submitting your work? Did these publications seek out your writing? 

The first paid writing gig I landed was all thanks to a series of fortunate events. Soon after I began blogging, I delved into the professional side of social media as a means of sharing my work. After a couple months of connecting and interacting with other writers and disability rights advocates, a blog coordinator reached out to ask if I’d be interested in a volunteer opportunity writing a guest post on disability in the media. That process went so well that the coordinator put me in touch with one of his freelance bosses and recommended me to be a writer.

Once my first paid piece went live, I started to build up the confidence I needed to officially consider myself a writer. Since then, getting published in different places has been the result of both submitting my work for consideration and having people approach me. I’ve spent a lot of time perfecting my pitching skills, and it’s still something I work on refining whenever I can. I’ve learned that the trick to a successful pitch email is to get right to the point, keeping it short and sweet rather than filling the page with flowery compliments.

So far, persistence has been key – with pitches, with tweets, with Facebook posts, with networking emails, with every aspect of writing. Everything I’ve done, successful or not, has been worth it just for the experience and connections. My favorite example of the pay-off so far is that I was offered an opportunity to write for The New York Times website via Twitter. The end result of that exchange is one of my favorite things I’ve written to date: “One Daughter, One Mother, Two Wheelchairs and Nothing Remarkable.”

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

I was offered my first writing-related job by chance during my freshman year of college. There was a book response essay contest for the entire freshman class and I won. Part of my prize was dinner with the author and some faculty members, one of whom happened to be the director of my university’s Writing Center. We chatted throughout the meal and hit it off, so she approached me a few days later to let me know she had read my essay and wanted to hire me as a writing tutor.

Following a semester-long intensive tutor training course, I got to work with students from all over my school during tutoring sessions several days per week. I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world, because it gave me exposure to immense diversity in writing habits that stemmed from different cultural backgrounds and learning styles. By reading the writing of others through a critical lens, offering guidance, and doing my best to help people comprehend an incredibly wide-range of grammatical and writing-related concepts, I was constantly motivated to consider my own writing and my understanding of the writing process in new ways.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life? 

I’ll be honest: since I changed career plans right in the middle of college, the real world intimidated me a bit. However, one of my primary goals was to make sure I graduated college with an already full resumé. All the clubs I joined, volunteering I did, and employment experiences I had during my time as an undergrad made it easier to transition to working after I graduated.

Also, once I realized that I wanted to shift my focus to advocacy, I began to explore possible options in case I decided to go to graduate school. As it happened, I took a year following graduation to focus on building my career, and just recently applied to a program that I learned about while I was still an undergrad. I’ll be pursuing an M.A. in Disability Studies starting Fall 2014 at the CUNY School of Professional Studies, and the program will allow me to continue my writing work as I earn my degree.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree? 

My first thought is, who am I to be spouting advice? Everyone will find a path that works best for them. That being said, I worry that far too many people make negative assumptions about what can be accomplished with an English degree, and I want anyone who’s ever doubted their decision to be an English major to know that there really is a world of potential out there.

In terms of practical advice, there are a few things I can’t stress enough:

  • If your goal is to write, put yourself out there. Create a blog, pitch material, develop a writing portfolio. It doesn’t matter if you’re still a student; the earlier you work towards making a name for yourself, the better. Even if you begin by doing lots of writing for free, you’ll be paid in the form of a wealth of writing clips to show off to potential employers. My blog serves as one big writing sample that I can easily present to anyone who may be interested, and I also have a separate portfolio page with a list of pieces I’ve written for other publications. This gives me credibility as an experienced writer, and provides Google with plenty of material in case anyone searches my name.
  • Social media can be a total rabbit hole, but it can also be your best friend. Some of my favorite work opportunities have come from simple online connections. It’s important not to focus only on one platform, though. I actively maintain accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and several other useful platforms (shameless plugs, I know). But the real point here is to diversify your social media outlets, because you never know where someone might stumble across your writing or you’ll find your niche.
  • Learn your limits. I find myself constantly wanting to say yes to everyone, but spreading myself too thin is just not fair to anyone. Saying no always makes me feel as though I’m being unfair to people when I have to do it, but when I have more time, I can write pieces and do work that I’m genuinely proud to call my own.
  • Most importantly, have faith in yourself. It’s super cheesy, cliché, and probably something you’ve heard a million times before, but it’s the advice that gets me through every day. Whenever self-doubt starts to creep in, acknowledge it, shake it off, and keep moving forward.

Visit Emily on her professional website and blog, Words I Wheel By. Connect with her on her Facebook and Twitter, too!


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 Sam Slaughter: Fiction Writer &amp; Brewery Social Media Manager

Sam Slaughter: Fiction Writer & Brewery Social Media Manager

Sam Slaughter: Fiction Writer & Brewery Social Media Manager

Name: Sam Slaughter

Age: 26

College & Majors/Minors: Elon University - BA, 2009, English/Creative Writing & Anthropology. Stetson University - MA, 2014, English.

Current Location: DeLand, FL

Current Form of Employment: Fiction Writer and Brewery Social Media Manager

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I currently work as a social media manager for a small craft brewery in DeLand, Florida. Starting this fall, I will also be an adjunct professor at the institution that I received my MA from. In addition, I do copywriting or editing for a few different people in town on a client-to-client basis.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

I fell into one, and for the other it was just as easy. I’ve always been interested in beer, wine, spirits, brewing, et cetera. From the time my college roommate and I attempted and eventually made abysmal homebrewed beer, I knew that it was always going to be something that I circled. In stories, I think Flannery O’Connor was the one that said you had to have your characters circle the same drain, or something to that effect. Alcohol, both making it and writing about it, is my drain. When I moved out to Montana for Grad School 1.0, I called all the wineries in the area and asked if they’d teach me. One place got back to me and did so. When I got down here, my boss’s husband knew some people that homebrewed and invited me over on a day they were brewing. I brewed, then did it again and then again. I stuck around. As they began to visualize a brewery, I was always there. I made the beer, I poured the beer, I drank the beer. With previous bar experience, I was/still am necessary to the brewery in the sense that I know more about the beer than most and I can also sell it better than most (an ability to play with words helps this out a lot). I may not be able to talk to strangers face to face on the street (the writer part of me coming out), but I sure as hell can sell you a pint of craft beer from behind a bar.

For the position with the university, I asked. After graduating, I was trying any and everything to find a job that would allow me to pay my bills. Teaching appealed to me—I’d co-taught a class while a grad student with my mentor and I have other teaching experience (City Year, an Americorps program)—so I sent an email inquiring about open positions with my university. Thankfully, they had some, I interviewed and now I’m preparing to fly solo with my first college class.

To address the last part, it all happens by networking. In such a small town, it isn’t hard to be known for your words. When you make enough acquaintances who then learn you can write and write better than most, copywriting jobs occasionally pop up. Business isn’t booming, but by asking people if they could use better copy for websites or whatever, you get a job here and there. It keeps me writing a variety of things and it, who knows, could lead to other freelance gigs in the future. I just keep asking and letting people know I’m available.

What was another job that was important in your career? 

Practically, an important job was working for a newspaper as a beat reporter. Two years after I graduated from Elon, I moved from Montana, where I'd spent a year floundering in graduate school, back home to New Jersey, where I took the job as a reporter. I learned a couple of things while at that position. First, I learned to write in the very basic, journalistic way that I had neglected to do throughout college. Working as a reporter for a small weekly, you learn to strip away any of the fancy bells and whistles of language in an effort to paint a simple portrait of, say, a town council meeting. In defense of town council meetings, though, there is no place for fancy bells and whistles. 

Not so practically, a job that sticks out for me is a summer I spent working as a gravedigger. You can call it a cemetery groundskeeper or a lawn facilities technician or some other fancy title, but I was a gravedigger. I used a shovel and I put people in the ground. It sounds harsh, I know, but it was also the perfect opportunity as a writer to learn. This job, and any other not-so-important jobs I’ve held over the years, especially ones that are more manual labor than intellectual labor, allow for time to think. I plotted stories while I worked, even if I never wrote them. I catalogued details of place. I tried out dialogue while I was out amongst the headstones weed whacking.

I try to balance practically and impracticality in my life if for nothing else than to remind myself that I need to make mistakes or I’m going to lead one hell of a boring life and more importantly a life not worth writing about.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

I wish I could say I did something specific. I didn’t though. Like I said earlier, I just happened to circle the same drain a lot. Really, there were two drains, so maybe this has to turn into a simile more like two planets, some gravity, and a ball in the middle. I swung from one orbit to the other and back in a figure eight pattern for a long time. Similes aside, I knew from a young age (eighth grade or so) that I wanted to write. I knew later on that I wanted to be around alcohol. Whatever I was doing, I kept those two things somewhere in my mind. They weren’t always in the front, but they were there. If your passion is strong enough, you learn to mix it into your everyday life. That’s all I did. I made sure words and booze were around all the time. The booze part is more difficult than the words part, but you learn over the years how to do it. As long as you know you haven’t forgotten about it—and the sheer fact that you remind yourself not to forget about whatever it is being the proof of that ( I think that’s how that works)—then you’ll be fine. Find your passion and don’t let it go.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

If you want to be a writer, try to have a job that does not involve writing. It may sound counterproductive, but I felt the least inspired (and the least energized) to write when all I did all day every day was write. When i got home, I had enough energy to go to the gym and then I'd sit around and complain about my job to my family. Instead, find some physical. Use your body and tire out everything, but your mind. Work somewhere where you will interact with people. Even if it isn't something permanent, it'll be useful. Work in the service industry. If you want to write in any sort of genre, this experience will give you settings, characters, you name it. The weird people you will meet when you work at a bar will provide an endless font of ideas for stories, poems, essays, everything. If nothing else, it'll provide an insight into how not to treat other people when you are out to dinner and that, I feel is quite useful in life.

[Sidebar: Working in a job where you write some, I think is also a good thing, though seeing as that is what I do, I recognize that I am bias. I like to think of it like an engine—writing all the time it'll overheat and you'll be left on the side of some lonely highway in North Dakota wondering whether or not a true crime show was shot in the area, but writing some of the time keeps the engine running, and running well so that when you do get to write you can perform optimally.]

To add to that, and this will sound cliché so for that I apologize, but try stuff. Live a little. When you spend all of your time with your nose in a book or sitting in front of a lit screen, you tend to miss out on things. I'm not saying go out every chance you get—that is probably as useless as never going out unless you take damn good notes—but don't be afraid to occasionally interact with others. Most won't bite and if they do, they're probably trying to be playful. If they're not, then you've got one hell of a story if you get out of there alive.

Finally, writing is a job, so expect to always (unless you're one of the incredibly successful and lucky ones) to always hold down two jobs. One you may never get paid for, but it deserves just as much attention if you want to be successful at it. Write and read whatever and whenever you can. Fail at writing and get rejected a lot. Get hurt by the rejection, fume over it, hug a teddy bear or a loved one, have a beer, strengthen your resolve to not let it happen again, then get back to it. It sounds a bit harsh, I know, but if you're not writing with a passion that can overcome that stuff, then why write?

Visit Sam on his professional website and follow him on twitter @slaughterwrites.


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 Kat Clark: Assistant Director of Marketing &amp; Communications

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 Christine Stoddard: Writer/Filmmaker, Co-owner &amp; Creative Director of Quail Bell&nbsp;

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Posted on July 17, 2014 and filed under Copywriting, Freelance, Journalism, Self-Employed, Social Media, Writing, Teaching.