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

6.17.18 Media Jobs List

I’m a little behind schedule this week with blogging as I finish writing a handful of stories. The past few weeks have been nice and busy! Without further delay, here’s this week’s job list:

Here in RVA, Richmond BizSense is hiring a web editor. This site — hands down — does the best business reporting in town. Every morning I lie in bed and read their e-news while I’m waking up. More here.

Afar is looking for a new Travel News Editor for their San Francisco or New York office to create “service-driven digital content.” More here.

Fresh out of college and into fashion? InStyle is on the hunt for an Editorial Assistant. More here.

Yoga Journal, which is based out of Boulder, Colorado (GO BUFFS!), is hiring a new Digital Strategist to lead the publication’s online endeavors. More here.

Best job ever: Meredith is hiring a professional pinner. Literally someone to run Pinterest for all their brands. The job title is actually Social Media Content Strategist, but whatever … we will call it “professional pinner.” More here.

Medium is looking to fill five editor roles in both their San Fran and NYC offices. More here.

If you’re a Philly fan, check out this gig: Visit Philadelphia is in need of a new Senior Digital Content Manager. More here.

Happy job hunting! xo, marissa

The Best Books On Writing

Dear writer friends,

I wanted to share a handful of my favorite books on writing. All these books have had a significant impact on myself as a writer, whether it was reading The Elements of Journalism in class at Boston University or weeping and laughing aloud while reading Stephen King’s On Writing. 

Here’s my top six:

The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tim Rosensteil • On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King • The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White • Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Other books I recommend for journalists are the Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists by Robert J. Haiman and The Associated Press Guide to News Writing. And for those who need style and grammar guides, check out the Allyn Bacon Handbook by Laurence Behrens and Leonard Rosen — and the book every writer needs, The Associated Press Style Book.

What are your favorite books on writing? xx, marissa

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6.10.18 Media Jobs List

It’s been a busy week. I’m writing content for two websites and working on a handful of stories, so I unfortunately didn’t spend much time looking for gigs this week. Here’s what I did come across though.

New York Post’s Page Six is on the hunt for a Social Media Manager. More here.

Wall Street Journal Magazine is hiring a whole slew of folks for their digital team — Digital Director, Digital Editor and Digital Visuals Editor. More here.

If you are just starting out in your journalism career, check out this gig. Philadelphia magazine is looking for a part-time Editorial Assistant. More here.

For the aesthetically inclined writer: Artsy is in need of  a Visual Culture Editor. More here.

Eileen Fisher is hiring a new E-Commerce Copywriter in their NYC office. More here.

Urban Outfitters is on the hunt for an Assistant Copywriter to work at their Philly headquarters. More here.

Happy job hunting! xo, marissa

5 Things You Must Do To Break Into Freelance Writing

This past weekend I taught another freelance writing workshop at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, which was attended by a handful of writers who haven’t been published. For those who are interested in breaking into freelance writing, but don’t have any published clips, I’m going to walk you through a few quick steps to help you lay the foundation for a future in writing.

1. Connect with the right people — Whether it’s in your town or across the country, it’s important to get to know people in the industry. Here’s a few ways:

• Join local clubs/groups – Attend industry and networking events to make connections in person.

• Schedule informational interviews – Make appointments with editors to learn about their publication and what kind of stories/voices they are looking for.

• Use social media – On Twitter, follow publications, editors and fellow freelancers. On LinkedIn, connect with people in the industry and follow writing groups.

2. Find a mentor – I can’t stress this enough: having a mentor is key to breaking into freelance writing. They can answer all your questions, provide support and help you navigate this new world. To read about all the benefits of mentorship, read my story on MediaBistro here.

3. Create an online presence – Since you don’t have any published stories yet, you need to create a place where editors can go and read your work. Create a blog where you can showcase your talents. For a comparison of blog platforms, check out this helpful article.

4. Brainstorm story ideas – Keep a journal of story ideas. Start with a big broad list of topics you’d like to write about and then zero in on specific story angles for each subject. Also, keep a running list of the publications you’d like to write for.

5. Pitch stories – Once your blog is up and running with a few posts, and after you’ve come up with a handful of story ideas, start pitching publications. Read my “Intro on How to Pitch Publications” post to learn more about submitting queries to editors. Also check out these online pitching workshops:

• MediaBistro – How to pitch: Start pitching and get published

• The International Freelancer by Mridu Khullar Relph – The Idea Generation Workshop: A step-by-step, proven plan for developing story ideas that sell

If you live here in Richmond, Virginia, check out my freelance writing workshop on August 18. It’s only $35 and it’s jam-packed with a ton of info on the ins and outs of freelancing. Sign up here.

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6.3.18 Media Jobs List

June is officially here, which means you all are probably thinking more about vacay than work. Rather than list all journalism jobs this week, I sprinkled in a few marketing gigs.

SheKnows is looking for a Director of Influencer Marketing. If you have a posse of big-time social media “pals,” this is the job for you. More here.

This freelance gig with Arrivedo keeps popping up on my radar, but I can’t say I know anything about the company. If you are looking to do some travel writing while sitting at home in your PJs though, this may be up your alley. More here.

If you are right out of college or new in your journalism career, this Editorial Assistant job with Shape sounds pretty cool. Ideally candidates should have a previous internship that focused on beauty and/or fitness. For those who are more seasoned, Shape is looking for an Executive Editor with 7 to 8 years of digital experience. More here.

The travel-meets-food site Roads & Kingdoms is looking for a New York-based Digital Producer. If you are a food lover, you must check out this beautiful site. More here.

Pouring over gorgeous photography and compelling stories, seriously, who didn’t dream of working for Nat Geo as a kid? National Geographic is on the hunt for a Senior Content Director and an Instagram Account Director. More here.

As a hypochondriac, I find myself on WebMD researching my latest ailment more frequently than I’d like to admit, which is why I could never apply for their Associate Editor job. If you have the strength to write about illnesses and disorders without worrying that you are going to keel over, then this job is for you. More here.

If your interests are a.) health, b.) the big blue planet we call Earth, or c.) all of the above, then mosey on over to MindBodyGreen, and read all about their Social Media Manager gig. More here.

After laying off a third of their newsroom in March, The Denver Post is hiring a Breaking News Reporter and a Senior Editor. [scratches head …]

Happy job hunting! xo, marissa

Check out last week’s job listings here.

5.27.18 Media Jobs List

Keep those #SundayScaries at bay. Here it is — this week’s roundup of cool media jobs!

One of my fave food websites, Food52, is hiring a part-time copy writer along with a food writer/recipe developer. More here.

Northstar Travel Media is in need of a new senior hotels editor to write stories for their Travel Weekly publication. More here.

Los Angeles magazine is on the hunt for a social media manager. More here.

The Evening Standard is hiring a NYC-based reporter to cover VIPs (think the royals and celebs). More here.

Time Out LA is looking for a new City Life Editor. More here.

Vox Media’s website Curbed, which covers everything on city living, is hiring a D.C. editor. More here.

Brit + Co. is looking for a Freelance Snapchat Editor, along with a Beauty Editor. More here.

Tasting Table needs a part-time editorial intern to work in their Manhattan office. More here.

Dow Jones is hiring several business and financial writers and editors. More here.

Outside Magazine is looking for a new assistant editor to work in their Sante Fe office. More here.

LinkedIn is on the hunt for a new copy writer. (I assume you should use LinkedIn to apply.) More here.