Monday, August 29, 2011

Covering Your First Press Event

I recently had the opportunity to cover my first press event.  It was a fun and exciting experience and I now have a ton of material (which will be displayed over at Comics Bulletin -- check it out!) on a subject I'm passionate about.  I also learned, primarily through trial and error, a great deal about covering an event.

Want to Cover an Event?

If you write for a hobbyist site, or even your own blog that has regular followers, you should consider applying for a media pass for local conventions and other events.  Most hobbies and interests and conventions and shows and reporting on these will not only drive traffic to your site, but will also help you make connections in the community and maybe even score you some additional writing gigs.  Whether you are into gaming, quilting, dog grooming, or flower growing, you can find something interesting to report on.

Applying for a Press Pass

To apply for a press pass, which usually includes a free ticket to the shows and sometimes access to special guests or promotional items from vendors, check the website for the show you want to cover.  They may have a link specifically for press.  If not, contact the people charge (usually found under "contact us" or something similar).  Ask if press passes are available.  Smaller shows will be thrilled to get the coverage and will bend over backwards to accommodate you, while larger shows that attract plenty of press will have much stricter guidelines.  Be prepared to link back to your work to show that you are a knowledgeable resource on the topic of the show.

Vendor Communications

Once you are signed up as press or media, you may begin receiving emails from vendors who are hoping to schedule some time with you.  Take advantage of these! Scoring exclusive interviews with vendors and guests will provide your readers with information they can't get anywhere else.  Schedule your time carefully, making sure to weave the interviews in between any panels or demonstrations you are hoping to see.  Make sure to allow time for meals, getting lost and exploring the show.  Have good etiquette and show up on time for interview.

Heading to Your First Event

Ready?  Take a few deep breaths.  Everyone has a first time and nobody is going to point and laugh.  Remember, the vendors want to talk to you.  You are their best advertising!

Before you head out the door, check your supplies and make sure you have everything you need.  Your list should include:

  • A digital recorder so you can review your interviews later
  • A camera (but always ask permission before taking photos)
  • Your press pass, or your ID to pick it up
  • A notebook or small laptop so you can take notes or draft articles during any downtime
  • Extra pens
  • Business cards to trade with vendors so they can reach you later
  • A carefully plotted out itinerary

Prepare ahead of time for your scheduled interviews, and even any unscheduled ones you are hoping to score.  Check out the vendors' websites and test their product, if possible.  Avoid asking questions that are answered on the vendors' FAQ pages. If the vendors are selling a product that you are personally interested in, ask questions about product from a personal standpoint.  What do you, as a consumer, want to know about the product?  Chances are, if you have a question, so do your readers.

If the product isn't something you know much about, talk to family and friends who are familiar with it.  Ask them what they want to know.  Check in with your readers, and see what questions they have.  Social media can be a great resource for this.  Post the question on a site like Facebook and you'll get all sorts of interesting questions.  The key here is to have unique questions.  The vendors answer the same old questions all day, every day.  Grab their attention and you might just score a scoop.  


Shows and conventions are one of the best venues for networking available.  Bring plenty of business cards and pass them out like candy.  Vendors who like your style may follow up with you and give you the first details on upcoming specials and releases -- a huge boost for both your rep as a writer and keeping your readers informed on the things they really care about.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

On Being a "Good Reader"

Books.  The nectar of life.
Photo by:  Surachai

When thinking about the skills needed to be a writer, what normally comes to mind?  Chances are it's a few of the following:

-- A strong vocabulary
-- An intimate knowledge of commas
-- Knowing where the darn apostrophes go
-- Understanding the difference between "they're/their/there"
-- A wild imagination

I would argue that one of the best skills a writer could have is being a good reader.

What does this mean?  What makes a good reader?  Does it mean you could pass the "reading for context" test you were given in the second grade?  Does it mean you were consistently placed in a higher reading level than your actual grade?  Does it mean you slogged successfully through War and Peace before graduating high school (and actually understood at least half of it)?

Maybe.  Although I admit that I still have not read War and Peace and, frankly, have no desire to whatsoever.

Here's what I think it means to be a good reader:

-- You love books and would rather be reading than doing anything else.
-- At any given time you have a book somewhere about your person, "just in case."
-- You get so involved in a story that you stay up until at least 2 am, just to see what happens.
-- You love books the same way you love people.
-- You spend hours wandering in a bookstore.
-- You get involved in conversations and arguments about characters in stories, and feel personally invested in the outcome.

So what does this have to do with writing?

Family legend has it that I was taught to read at three years old by my grandmother.  By the first grade I was reading chapter books by Beverly Cleary.  I read "Animal Farm" in the fourth grade (and understood it).  At fifth grade I was tested and found to have a "fourteenth grade" reading level (i.e. college level).  I read anything you put in front of me (almost), both fiction and nonfiction.

From the very beginning, I was surrounding myself with language.  I learned quickly all the ways it can be manipulated, understood instinctively the difference between an adverb and an adjective, got a feel for the rhythm of punctuation.

When I'm writing, I'm just interested in getting the information out and on the page.  But when I edit, I become the reader.  I read the work out loud, to get the feel of it.  And I can "hear" whether it's working or not.  Sentences "sound" awkward.  Commas "feel" misplaced.

You can't teach this in school.  Studying nouns, verbs, transitional phrases, modifiers, participles...  it doesn't help you "feel" the language.  Even if you are writing about something as "dry" as heart attack symptoms.  Do it right, and your reader cares.  And as writers, we are all about the readers.  Right?  Want to be a better writer?  READ.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

How to Start Your Own Business in Five Simple Steps

Do you know how many books are written on this subject?  It's a little bit terrifying.  I've found that you can actually boil it all down into five simple steps:

1.  Come up with an idea.
2.  File your business license.
3.  Order your business cards.
4.  Read everything you can find on the subject.
5.  Panic.

Wait, what?  Panic?  It's funny how easy it all seems at first.  Truth be told, there's a lot of work to do.  I've been busy laying my foundations.  I'm getting a bit more done everyday, and things are falling into place.  Instead of becoming overwhelmed by how much I have to do, it's time to focus on how much I've already done and what I've managed to accomplish.

Here's what I've done since I first started looking at this whole crazy plan, way back in November:

  • Written nearly 600 separate articles on every subject under the sun (it seems).
  • Received glowing reviews from many clients, including this one a piece today:  "Well written and fast. Thank you so much for a great article."
  • Hired for a steady stream of direct orders.
  • Been promoted to Senior Reviewer at DailySource.
  • Earned a certificate in professional proofreading.
  • Picked up as the gaming columnist for Comics Bulletin.
I'll be heading to PAX Prime with media credentials (and I have the schedule for that all blocked out -- going to be some great articles coming out of that one!).  I have interviews booked with a number of gaming outlets, and I've figured out which panels I plan to see (Helllooo, Wil Wheaton!).

So what's left?  Here's what's coming down the pike...

  • I'm creating a report about attracting customers to small businesses.
  • I'll be offering up a monthly newsletter (send me an email or comment and I'll add you to my mailing list).
  • A series of letters offering my services to local clients.
And that's where things will get interesting.