Female Freelancer: Writer Sarah Howlett gives the 411 on trade publications

As a remote writer, I connect with all sorts of talented freelancers through the interwebs. Recently Boulder, Colorado journalist Sarah Protzman Howlett and I found one another and connected over our mutual love of writing and Colorado. While Sarah does a variety of editorial work from writing to copy editing, I wanted to focus this week’s Q&A on one of her specialities — writing for trade publications. Trade publications are a different beast than consumer publications, so I figured this would be a nice opportunity for Sarah give us a little background on the trade pub world.

Publications you’ve worked with: WWD, Oprah, Prevention, 5280, 5280 Health, 5280 Home, Colorado Health & Wellness, and a slew of trade magazines you’ve never heard of.

1. Tell us about your journalism background. How did you get your start in the industry?

After I graduated from the Missouri School of Journalism, my first job was on the copy desk at The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction, Colorado. After 18 months, I took over for the arts and entertainment reporter, where I covered music and theater, and appeared on TV, radio, a web series, and wrote a column about being single in a small town.

After a few years, I got the New York City bug and, once there, caught a lucky break with an assistant job at a men’s fashion trade that folded in 2008. Unbeknownst to me, my boss was aware we were going under and had already put me up for a job on the copy desk at Women’s Wear Daily (WWD). It was an awfully sad time in journalism, seeing so many colleagues and friends laid off who, frankly, were a lot more talented than I. I worked at WWD until moving to Denver in 2010. 

2. How and when did you launch your freelance career?

I freelanced on the side when I lived in Manhattan, often covering home décor and Broadway theater for a free publication called New York Resident. (I think I answered a Craigslist ad to get that gig and was maybe able to pay my utilities with what I earned, but it was sorely needed extra cash!)

In 2010 my then-fiancé, now husband and I felt ready to move on from NYC and move to Denver, near my family. We wanted kids in a few years’ time, so I built up a roster of freelance clients with the idea that I’d be established after a year or so and work part-time once I was a mother. Our twins were born in 2013, and it has been a privilege to have the flexibility that comes with working for myself.

3. It sounds like a bulk of your work and income comes from trade publications. What are trade publications and how did you segue into that world?

It was a total accident. I wrote a piece for a trade magazine in the pool and spa industry to help out a friend who was on its staff at the time. When it ended up losing its associate editor some time later, they called me. I have had that job, working remote, since 2010 and they’ve been very good to me. 

4. What kind of subject matter do you write about for trade publications?

I often write trend reports (for instance, new technologies gym owners might consider to boost membership) or profiles on small-business owners. I love talking to anyone who is passionate about what they do; it gets me really interested right away, regardless of whether I’ve never heard of the thing they’re talking about until I started the story!

5. How is working with trade publications different from working with consumer publications?

Instead of, say, a magazine like Shape, which anyone interested in fitness would read, trades are speciality publications for those who make their living in the business of fitness. Where Shape writes about how to flatten your abs, a fitness trade publication might write a feature on the latest fitness equipment, and whether owners/operators who have upgraded have found it worth the investment.

6. Do you have to pitch trade publications the same way you’d pitch a consumer publication? 

No. Most trade editors assign to experienced writers who are capable of learning on their feet. They don’t expect most of their freelancers to have the highly specific knowledge about their given industries, so they’ll often help you with sources and industry terminology. I’ve certainly pitched to trades once I’m familiar with an industry’s trends and pressing issues. When I’m interested in writing for a new one, I send an email introducing myself. There are some great LOI (letter of introduction) templates on freelancer websites.

7. What kind of advice do you have for writers who want to work with trade publications? Where can they find trade publications to scope out their content?

Advice: Always focus on your hourly pay and not the per-word. Signing a contract for $2/word feels awesome, but when you’re eight months into reporting and on your sixth revision with your third editor, the hourly can end up pretty bad. (Don’t get me wrong: If you sell a pitch to a huge mag when you’re just starting out, definitely do it. A great clip is a great clip.)

Most trades I’ve written for pay anywhere from $.25 to $1/word, and I’m able to pull in about as much in 10 hours a week as I did as a full-time reporter right out of college. Trades’ lead times are much shorter and their staffs smaller, so there are fewer revisions, you get paid faster, and you can access sources easily because they’re eager to talk up the industry they love (or at least from which they earn a living). Googling “trade pubs for the ____ industry” will yield all the results you need. 

8. Other than trade publications, what other kind of writing and work do you do editorially?

I still copy edit a lot. So many newspapers have slashed their copy desks — and you can tell, believe me — but I have copy edited everything from museum newsletters to cookbooks. The skill is highly transferable from my newspaper days and still so valuable. There are innumerable highly intelligent people, experts in their field, who struggle mightily to write a clear, concise sentence that’s correctly punctuated.

9. How do you keep yourself abreast of trends in the ever-evolving media industry? 

I read a ton of news and probably too many think pieces about the industry. I don’t consider myself a blindly optimistic person, but I believe to my toes that collectively, we know we benefit from helpful, honest reporting, and that it’s not going anywhere.

10. What are some of your favorite tools as a journalist? 

I really like Grammar Girl for those obscure rules I can never seen to remember! And I will always love the AP Stylebook.

11. What kind of things do you do creatively to help yourself unwind?

I love to sew and refinish small pieces of furniture, and I’m constantly tweaking our home’s interior. 

Connect with Sarah through her website, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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Female Freelancer: Daliah Singer

Meet this week’s “female freelancer” — Daliah Singer, a Denver, Colorado-based journalist. The summer after Daliah and I graduated from college (she from University of Denver and I from CU-Boulder), we met while interning at 5280 Magazine in Denver. We sat next to each other and spent our summer writing and fact-checking stories, along with helping research large packages for the magazine. Daliah went on to work as an editor for 5280 for nearly 8 years before becoming a full-time freelancer.

I’ve always loved reading Daliah’s stories; she’s kept me in the loop with what has been happening back in my old stomping grounds. And as she has become a full-time freelancer, it’s been so exciting to see her byline on sites I love reading like Tasting Table, Time Out and USA Today.

Publications worked with: 10Best, 5280, Alaska, Denver Business Journal, The Denver Post, GearJunkie, Hemispheres, October, Outside, Smarter Travel, Tasting Table,  Time Out, USA Today

1. What did you do before you launched your freelance career?

I worked full-time at 5280, Denver’s city and regional magazine, for seven-and-a-half years before going freelance in December 2016. (I’m still a contributing editor at the pub.)

2. How did you get started in the freelance world?

I kind of just jumped in and started pitching anywhere and everywhere. I set publication and monetary goals, read a lot of blogs by people who’d transitioned to freelance, and learned through trial and error. My first freelance article was for Outside’s website, but I spent a lot of my first year writing stories for 5280 and smaller pieces here and there for various websites and alumni magazines.

3. What was your “big break”?

I don’t think I’ve had my big break yet—and I’m also not quite sure what a “big break” will look like for me. I have definitely expanded into more national work this year, with stories in Tasting Table and Hemispheres and a couple of others slated to publish in the next month or so.

4. As a self-employed journalist, what is an ongoing challenge for you?

Time-management and motivation. I’ve played around a lot with my schedule, trying to figure out the best way to make sure I’m on top of a wide range of deadlines (front quick-hit web stories to longer magazine profiles to service packages), while also making time to research, pitch, and do all the admin stuff, such as invoicing and taxes. I’ve also discovered that working from home, alone and without the white noise that comes with an office or coffee shop, doesn’t inspire me. I end up staring at my screen a lot — or spending way too much time on social media. I’m trying to get out of the house more, whether it’s to work somewhere else or just go for a walk and take a break from technology. 

5. What is a project you recently worked on that makes you proud?

I’m proud of my recent story in Hemispheres, on a new spirit being made in Patagonia. I came across it AT an event hosted by a friend. I crafted a good pitch, it was assigned, and I spent a lot of time writing it even though it was a short piece. My editor’S BOSS said it WAS one of his favorite drink stories they’ve run in a while. You deal with rejection lot as a freelancer, so to have a story smoothly follow the traditional process was really enjoyable. And it’s cool that there was a magazine with my name in it flying all over the world.

6. How do you keep yourself abreast of trends and news in the ever-evolving media industry?

I’m terrible at this! I’m signed up for newsletters from Folio:, Poynter, Reliable Sources, and a couple of others. I also try to keep up with my friends on social media — I have a Twitter list just for media folks — so I can peek in once in a while and see what they’re talking about. In general, though, I feel like there’s no way to keep up with any news these days. Things are moving too fast. For that reason, I always triple check, via Twitter, LinkedIn, or other means, whether the editor I’m pitching still works for the publication; magazine websites often aren’t up-to-date either! 

7. What are some of your favorite tools as a journalist?

Another area where I’m behind. I’ve read a lot of articles about what apps other journalists can’t live without, but sometimes it seems like the technology just creates more work — one more place to record this or that. I rely mostly on a paper and pen, or type notes on my computer if it’s a phone interview. I hate transcribing, so I try to avoid using my recorder unless it’s a sensitive interview, one with really detailed information (like for a health story), or I know it’s going to run super long. I started using Airtable this year to track all of my projects and pitches, and I like it a lot. I use Wave for invoicing. QuickBooks has probably been the most valuable tool because, as I quickly discovered, trying to figure out self-employed taxes on your own is basically impossible.  

8. How do you keep yourself inspired to brainstorm and pitch new story ideas?

I find that pitching in the morning or setting aside a particular day of the week to pitch helps. It’s a new day where I can start fresh. You have to have thick skin and not take rejections personally; some days I’m better at taking my own advice than others. There are plenty of occasions where I’ve thought to myself that I’m never going to have an original idea again. Going for a walk or just taking a break from work typically helps. Oftentimes, ideas come to me when I’m chatting with a friend or reading an article or hiking in the mountains. There are stories everywhere, and sometimes it helps to stop thinking that you need to find a story and instead just turn your brain off and let them come to you.

9. What do you do in your spare time to unwind from work?

As a journalist, it’s hard to turn your brain off and stop thinking of story ideas (see above), so I try to unwind with things that require my full attention. I enjoy working out, cooking, watching movies, spending time outside (hiking, skiing, etc.), reading novels (aka, nothing like what I write), and hanging out with friends. 

10. What advice do you have for women who want to become a freelance journalist?

Go for it. I’m all about taking risks. But know that it’s a tough path. You need to prepare for a lot of uncertainty and frustration. You picked a tough career and trying to succeed on your own adds another layer of complexity. The freedom to design your own schedule, choose who you write for and what you write about, and create the career you want is a pretty big payoff, though. Just jump in with both eyes open. 

Connect with Daliah through her website and on Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Female Freelancer: Sarah Der talks Photography

This week on the blog we are featuring a dear friend of mine as our female freelancer. Sarah Der is a Richmond, Virginia-based lifestyle photographer who I met two years ago after she moved to town from Boston. I first came to know Sarah for her wedding photography, as I was working with The Knot at the time. After hanging out and getting to know Sarah, I discovered that she photographs more than weddings. Her work encompasses portraits, families, food, interiors, landscapes and pets. Through her photos, Sarah has a way of capturing the magic of people and places. You can find her work nationally on websites like Martha Stewart Weddings and here in RVA in the cool new magazine B Side. Below Sarah shares the ins and outs of being a freelance photographer with us, along with some of her challenges and inspirations.  

Publications worked with: B Side, Maine Magazine, Southern Living, The Voice-Tribune along with many online publications like Elizabeth Anne Designs, Grey Likes Weddings, Martha Stewart Weddings, Ruffled, Southern Weddings and Style Me Pretty

1. What did you do before you launched your freelance career?

I launched Sarah Der Photography right out of college and I haven’t looked back. I often wonder what it would be like to work a 9-to-5 job — would I like it?! Would my coworkers be super fun? Would there be Friday happy hours? Could I really become a morning person!?

2. How did you get started in the freelance world?

I have always loved the arts. Growing up, I remember absolutely cherishing this dinky watercolor set I got for Christmas. The little plastic brushes and all the different paints were so precious to me. Painting, sewing, taking photos, drawing, anything creative kept my attention. When I graduated from the University of Richmond in 2010 with a degree in English and Studio Art, I spent a good amount of time trying to figure out how to make a living working in the arts. I remember sitting my (now) husband down on his beat up grad school futon and saying, “You know, I’ll just get one camera, one lens, and we’ll see what happens …” Well it turns out that I love the challenge of it all! I love photography and I love working for myself.

3. What was your “big break”?

Honestly, I don’t know that I’ve had a big break. I’ve lived in three different cities in the past 8 years, and I’ve brought SDP along for the ride. Establishing a business in a new place means making new connections and building an entirely new client base. I have worked very hard the past 8 years to stay relevant and to serve clients, to make a place for myself in each new city. Perhaps moving to Richmond has been my big break? I can finally relax a bit and let my business grow organically. It seems easier to make meaningful connections and to settle in here knowing we’ll be in RVA for the long haul.

4. As a self-employed photographer, what is an ongoing challenge for you?

I think any self-employed individual can relate, but feeling isolated is the biggest struggle for me. I’m an introvert, but I still yearn to be part of a team. I want a teammate, someone with whom to brainstorm ideas, who supports the work that I do and who shares in the successes and the disappointments. I really enjoy working with other photographers and learning from them, but being busy with my own clients and projects doesn’t open up many opportunities to do that.

5. What is a project you recently worked on that makes you proud?

I had the absolute best time working on the newest issue of B Side Magazine. I had recently relocated to Richmond when Ja’Nai Tellis Frederick — B Side’s badass founder — approached me and asked me to come on board. I was so, so excited and honored. B Side is such an incredible project. The magazine tells the story of female entrepreneurs and bosses here in Richmond, and the most recent issue features women in the food and beverage industry. I got to meet and photograph local chefs, bakers, and business owners. I am so proud of how the last issue turned out and even more excited about the upcoming issue! It gives me the perfect outlet to push myself creatively, and it also makes me feel like part of a team.

6. What are some of your favorite tools as a photographer? 

Hands down my favorite tool is film! You remember film? What your parents shot when you were a kid? I shoot a lot of little canisters of 35mm and even more rolls of medium format film. If you have talked to me at all about the work that I do, then you’ve heard me go on and on about why I love film. I love its grain, I love its classic tones, how you shoot it slowly and intentionally, how you can’t look down and see every shot you’ve taken, and how you only have 16 (or 36!) shots per roll. I love that I don’t have thousands of photos to sift through and how shooting film let’s me shoot more, sit at my computer less. I love that it’s a bit of a forgotten art; that makes it even more special to me.  

7. How do you keep yourself inspired?

I try not to look at the work of other photographers to find inspiration simply because it’s easy to start comparing your work to theirs, which fosters unhappiness and insecurity. It sounds cheesy, but I stay inspired by the people with whom I work — their stories, their spaces, and their passions. I really try to approach each person with an open mind. Then in the photos I take and that I share, I hope that others can see what I see, too — the joy, the creativity, the hard word, the passion.

8. What do you do in your spare time to unwind from work?

Last year I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and in turn I really changed the way that I eat. Now I spend a lot of my time these days cooking! I’ve tried to shift my thinking from “oh what a pain to have to cook again” to “I’m so lucky to be working with these amazing, local, organic ingredients that are really good for my body…!” I have also taken an interest in the local food movement. I opted in to Broadfork Farm’s amazing CSA program, and I have enjoyed the challenge of cooking with whatever crops are harvested each week.

I also love walking by the river with our sweet pup; being outside with her is such a meditative, quiet time for me. Other than that, I am minutely ashamed to admit that I sometimes stay up really late playing a highly addictive video game called Fortnite. Thirty-year-olds are allowed to play video games, right!?

9. What advice do you have for women who want to become a freelance photographer?

Go forth confidently! It is such an amazing time to be both a woman and hustler. You can find so much information online and around you to help get you started. Take comfort in the fact that each of us had to start from scratch to figure things out, too. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t get down on yourself when you make mistakes or when you don’t know the answer. Learning is such an important part of the process.

Surround yourself with those who will lift you up, and remember to do the same for others. Someone else’s success will never take away from your own, so take every opportunity you can to support and celebrate the success and hard work of others. Be patient. It takes time to grow a sustainable business, and sometimes you don’t see the results of hard work for some time. So stick with it, girl!

Connect with Sarah through her websites sarahder.com and sarahderphotography.com, and via social media on Facebook and on Instagram

Female Freelancer: Kristin Luna Travels the Globe

I’m kicking off a new series on the blog called “Female Freelancers,” where I feature women in the media. In this inaugural post, Kristin Luna, a Nashville, Tennessee-based journalist and media pro, shares her journey in journalism and marketing. I met Kristin six years ago when we were both traveling in Savannah and I immediately felt a connection with her. I have always admired Kristin for her work ethic, gumption and authenticity. Follow along as Kristin shares her “big break,” the challenges she faces and how she keeps herself inspired.

Publications worked with: AFAR, Conde Nast Traveler, Food + Wine, Forbes, Glamour, National Geographic, Newsweek, PEOPLE, Real Simple,  Redbook, Robb Report, Self, Southern Living, Travel + Leisure, USA Today

1. What did you do before you launched your freelance career?

I started working in newspapers at the age of 15, then went onto the University of Tennessee for a journalism degree, got my first big magazine break with Harper’s at the age of 20, moved to New York City at 22 for a job with Newsweek and have worked in the media ever since. This year marks my 20th as a journalist!

2. How did you get started in the freelance world?

I went back to school for a one-year journalism program in Europe and used my Newsweek connections to leverage a monthly column covering new hotel and restaurant openings for the magazine’s international editions. During that year abroad, I also landed my first guidebook gig in Spain for MTV and Wiley Publishing, who published all the Frommer’s titles at the time.

At the completion of that project, I moved back to Manhattan where I worked in-house gigs at publications like Entertainment Weekly, US Weekly and Conde Nast — with several other freelance reporting jobs in between. During my last year in house at a Conde Nast fashion title, I started actively pursuing freelance gigs through my network of connections I’d accumulated over the past couple years of going to every event I was invited to in New York; pretty soon, I had regular enough work with the Travel Channel and Forbes Traveler (now defunct) that I was able to go full-time freelance and move to California to be with my then-boyfriend, now-husband.

A few months after arriving, I met a publicist who introduced me to the Frommer’s author of the California guidebooks, and as he had just launched a new company of his own, he subcontracted a lot of his Frommer’s work out to me. In four years, I contributed to more than a dozen titles — and established myself as the go-to California writer in the process, which brought me even more work and an eventual long-term gig with Visit California, the state’s marketing arm.

3. What was your “big break”?

During my final months living in New York, a contact through my college alumni network reached out and asked to send me on my first commissioned travel assignment to the Caribbean for Real Simple. Though I had had many smaller print clips and hundreds of online hits for major pubs, this was my first multi-page feature in a national glossy and I was just 24.

4. As a self-employed journalist, what is an ongoing challenge for you?

I’m lucky in that I’ve never had trouble getting work — there’s always been a steady stream of gigs that seem to land in my lap, thanks to decades worth of endless networking — however getting paid is another issue. It recently took me 11 months to collect payment from a major magazine, and sadly that seems to be the norm with so many publications going through staff changes and freelancer paperwork getting lost in the shuffle.

While I make a good annual income as a freelancer, I often feel cash poor simply due to how long it takes to get paid and the amount of time and mental bandwidth wasted on chasing paychecks that are months (sometimes, years) overdue. Sadly, Net-30 is not the reality of the magazine world, and publications don’t get penalized for overdue payments.

5. What is a project you recently worked on that makes you proud?

My husband Scott and I launched Odinn Media, Inc. in 2012 as a specialized content marketing agency, and through it we have worked with dozens of CVBs and DMOs, as well as have long-term contracts with such brands as the Grand Ole Opry. Owning your own agency allows for a lot more creativity that I don’t necessarily get from freelancing for other clients; we do photography, video, drone, social media, writing and strategy, and truly get to leverage our skill set and passions, of which we have many. Our key to success in the media has been to keep evolving and always stay one step ahead of the trend.

6. How do you keep yourself abreast of trends and news in the ever-evolving media industry?

I’m a slave to social media, and I’ve found that, ironically while it’s one of the older social media platforms, Twitter is now more relevant than ever and my go-to news resource for not only what is happening in the industry, but also the world. 

7. What are some of your favorite tools as a journalist? 

Back when I was still actively pitching, I found MediaBistro’s “How to Pitch” guides invaluable for learning where and how to pitch specific editors and publications. From an organizational standpoint, I use Dropbox for everything, from file management to sharing assets with clients. The scanner functionality on the Dropbox app helps me keep an electronic version of my receipts handy at all time for later reimbursement and tax write-offs.

8. How do you keep yourself inspired to brainstorm and pitch new story ideas?

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I don’t pitch publications anymore. I’ve come to a point in my career where I have more work than I can handle as it is — both from anchor clients but also editors with whom I’ve worked for more than a decade — so unless there’s a burning issue I just have to write about (like the recent controversy surrounding my husband and me commissioning a community mural), I never, ever pitch.

I find that with staffs slim and lead times ludicrous, the best way to get work is build relationships with editors over time who assign me stories they’ve generated in house versus my bringing ideas to them. A lot of our work nowadays is custom content for tourism boards, so most of those partnerships organically happen through our travels and meeting the right people at conferences and other industry events.

9. What do you do in your spare time to unwind from work?

There’s rarely a time I’m not working these days, to be honest. But my husband and I own an old 1800s Victorian, as well as a couple investment properties around Tennessee, so when we aren’t writing, editing or shooting, we’re likely tinkering away at one of our houses. Additionally, I’m big into fitness, and AcroYoga is my preferred style of working out for a full mental escape that’s also a whole lot of fun.

10. What advice do you have for women who want to become a freelance journalist?

Persistence is the only way to launch a sustainable career in journalism in 2018. You have to be prepared for a lot of “no” along the way — then figure out how to spin that rejection to your advantage. All it takes is one “yes,” after all, to completely alter the course of your career.

Follow Kristin’s adventures on her website Camels & Chocolate, and via social media on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook