I'm Lena Chen, a writer, activist, and media producer who's been called a "skank" (by Bill O'Reilly) and "a small Asian woman" (by The New York Times). My favorite part of my workday is the hate mail.For the unlikely story that is my life, read on.
Hi! So first off, I think a good starting point would be to figure out what kind of freelance writing you want to do. Most people assume that freelancing means writing for publications, but this isn’t always the case, given that it can be pretty hard to make a living as a one-trick pony. Some folks are resume writers and copy editors and poets and playwrights all at the same time, not necessarily because they want to be, but because they have to pay the bills. One woman I interviewed in my Freelance Friday series worked as a social media manager as her steady gig. Learning how to leverage your skills to earn a living is as big a part of freelancing as the writing itself.
Second point, I don’t think it’s necessary to identify oneself as an online or offline writer. Most people I know do both. Nowadays, so many readers consume news and opinion on the Internet that print journalism is no longer king. And besides, even when I do write for print, people usually find me and my work online. They’ve read my blog or seen my portfolio or follow me on Twitter, and they contact me via email or Facebook. I think it can be really helpful to maintain an online presence that represents some of your topical interests. I blog for free on the same subjects that I get paid to write about, but the latter wouldn’t happen without the former.
The World Wide Web is an invaluable tool for me to network and communicate, and I would encourage you to view it similarly. Particularly when you’re starting out, you might find it helpful to meet other writers (through local MeetUp groups, online communities, etc.) and to follow the work of those you admire. Maybe there’s a website you’d love to write for someday and a writer whose pieces particularly speak to you? Shoot them an email and ask if they have any tips for pitching to that publication.
Any other writers want to contribute tips? Please do share in the comments below :)
More burning questions? Ask Lena.
Did you check out last week’s editorial opportunities? Here are two more feminist websites — international ones! — I thought you guys would also be interested in writing for. Neither gig comes with compensation, though I can attest that both sites do fantastic coverage. I’ve interviewed with Dollmag, Rhubarb’s predecessor, and will have a Q&A out in Mookychick next week. Check them out — especially if you’re Canadian or British :)
RHUBARB SEEKING INTERVIEWERS & INTERVIEW SUBJECTS
Rhubarb is an upcoming Toronto-based feminist Q&A site. So many experts, pundits and critics in the media are men, and Rhubarb hopes to be part of the movement to change that. Our goal is to provide an outlet for women of all ages and backgrounds to express their thoughts on hot-button issues in the news and popular culture through short interviews — five to seven questions tailored to the interviewee’s areas of interest and knowledge. We’re not looking to publish profiles; rather, our focus is to share the opinions of women who may not otherwise be called upon for their expertise.
Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in contributing. We need both interviewers and interview subjects. If you’d like to conduct interviews, please submit links to any Q&A-style work you’ve done. You can also just send us an idea or two for potential interview subjects. If you’d like to be interviewed, tell us about some of the topics you’re interested in (blogging? teen fiction? Canadian politics?) and why you’d make a great interview subject. Interviewers/interviewees from anywhere in the world are welcome to contribute.
Rhubarb is a tentative, working title for the site. Check out our predecessor, Dollmag.ca - a now-defunct online feminist magazine for young, professional women in and around Toronto.
MOOKYCHICK CALL FOR CONTRIBUTORS
Mookychick.co.uk is a global feminist site for alternative women and girls of all ages. It’s been going for over 5 years - expect thousands of articles and a thriving open-minded community that post nearly every minute and have mookymeets on a regular basis. We’d absolutely love to have more contributors, especially covering feminist topics. Recently we’ve been talking about: Slut shaming, Slutwalk, Topman’s misogynist T-shirts, hacked photos on adult websites and a whole lot more.
We’re not just looking for feminist content, either. Our readers have also asked for more LGBQT content and we’d love to oblige! Also, if you glance through Mookychick you’ll see we’re not just about feminism. We’re interested in taking the alternative, the outsider, and warmly embracing a lack of labels and the coming together of the no-tribe.
We especially love articles that are quirky, knowledgeable, friendly and witty - and full of surprises. Our how-to guides are filled with bijou gems like how to protect your house from ninjas and how to hunt monsters. We love the funny… but yes, we appreciate that some topics just aren’t funny.
At the end of the day, we’re looking for articles that say what you have to say, and in your own voice. We aim to be… eclectic!
If you’d like to write for us, please email email@example.com pitching an idea or two, or just send us your piece on spec. When sending in an article, please include your preferred author name, paragraph of bio, personal link if desired (we’re happy to promote your own website) and profile pic.
Want to submit a writing opportunity for Freelance Friday? Email lena [at] lenachen [dot] com.
Trying to mix it up with Freelance Friday this fall! This week and next week, I’m going to be a bit more service-y and post some curated writing gigs that I’ve found via my own network of freelancers, feminists, and friends. (You know you love my alliteration.) Check out the following opportunities, the first from Morgane Richardson, who organized the Ain’t I A Woman event which I helped moderate, and the second from Rosella Eleanor LaFevre, who interviewed journalist Caroline Kinneberg for a Freelance Friday I ran back in February.
More coming next Friday!
REFUSE THE SILENCE EDITOR INTERNSHIP
Refuse The Silence is a digital initiative for women of color who are attending (or have attended) elite liberal arts colleges. Centered around an online community, RTS collects the stories of these women. The experiences shared online then becomes part of the path to progress as the RTS team draws from them to create actionable guidelines for college administrators who seek to improve their institutions.
Founded in 2008 by activist Morgane Richardson, the campaign is maintained by the digital media agency, MixtapeMedia.
About you: As an awesome candidate for the role of Editor and Community manager, you’re passionate about grassroots activism and know the value of empowering groups to share their stories. You’re a powerful writer yourself, and have a particular interest in social issues. You have some great online resources you use to stay up-to-date on these topics- some we’re familiar with, but some will be new to us. You’re comfortable working online and have the inner-drive that it takes to be part of a cloud-based team. Plus you’re fun to work with and bring new ideas to the table… We can’t wait to meet you!
About the Internship: This is a 3-month internship best suited for someone who is interested in pursuing a career in social media and/or community organizing. While this is an unpaid position, you’ll be compensated with a 2-week digital communication training course; one letter of recommendation; minimum of 2 networking opportunities; and an interview for a paid position at the end of the internship. All work will be done online. Must have good, high-speed internet access.
How to Apply: Refer here full qualification requirements. To apply, send a cover letter with a resume of relevant work experience to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please feel free to make your cover letter creative in terms of format (i.e., video, blog, etc.)
M.L.T.S. MAGAZINE CALL FOR ISSUE 3 SUBMISSIONS (ALSO SEEKING BLOGGERS & SEX/RELATIONSHIP COLUMNIST)
M.L.T.S. Magazine, which stands for “Most Likely to Succeed,” is a quarterly online publication and daily blog for young women in college who want to start their careers while in college. It’s a lifestyle publication for this smart set and we cover style, beauty, entertainment, love/relationships, college/education and careers/internships. We launch our issues in March, June, September, and December, and we’re currently working on issue three, out December 5, 2011. We’re looking for pitches for all of our sections and want a mix of reportage and first-person pieces. The deadline for first drafts is October 31, and the issue goes to press on November 21. Anyone interested in seeing their work in the next issue should first read issues 1 and 2 and then email Editor in Chief Rosella Eleanor LaFevre at email@example.com, with ideas or full articles as soon as possible.
We’re also looking for bloggers, and in particular, would love to find a smart sassy sex/relationship columnist and bloggers to cover college/education hot topics as well as career/internship news and advice. Again, interested writers should contact Editor in Chief Rosella Eleanor LaFevre at firstname.lastname@example.org and should include a resume and samples if available.
Want to submit a writing opportunity for Freelance Friday? Email lena [at] lenachen [dot] com.
So, after the completion of the Progressive Women’s Voices program, the participants were asked to submit three “specific, measurable, achievable, and realistic” media goals to accomplish before the end of this calendar year. In December, someone will be checking in with us to see which goals were achieved. The pressure is on!
I’m going to post my goals on this blog as well, so that I’m doubly accountable — both to the Women’s Media Center AND to all my readers. (I haven’t yet decided which of these two groups I find more intimidating!) Here they are:
Any tips or leads? Suggestions? (Especially conferences — I really haven’t done the conference circuit at all, since I don’t have an employer who will cover travel expenses.) Do you find goal-setting effective in your own career/life?
It varies a lot. Right now, I’m finishing up two personal essays but have an unfinished draft of a blog post that I want to publish. Last month, I was mostly preparing for speaking engagements. Since my blog isn’t a paid venture and the rare sidebar ad barely covers my hosting costs, it’s hard for me to justify spending all my energy on the site … though that’s something I have a habit of doing anyway, much to my friends’ dismay. I love the flexibility of my job and I’m grateful for having this platform, but so much of my career is a balancing act between projects that pay and projects that don’t. (And that’s pretty much the way it is for most freelancer/activist types I know.)
I spend an average of two hours a day blogging. When readers ask me questions about familiar subjects, like sexual health, I usually already know the answer or know exactly where to look to get a reliable one. If I’m just answering a question about my personal life, that is typically pretty quick as well. Longer posts can take anywhere between two and three hours because I have to do research and offer background/context in addition to blogging my commentary. The Helen Jewett murder case, for example, took about two hours. Because I have limited time to devote to reader questions, I tend to answer the ones that are most pressing and skip over the ones requesting my opinion on X issue in the news. (I appreciate being given the heads-up on topics I might be interested in, but rarely have the ability to respond.) I try to have a new post up on the site everyday, but I don’t always publish longer pieces on the weekend and instead, queue them up for the work week, particularly if I’m going to be traveling or speaking and know ahead of time that I won’t be able to post on the road. I try to write something everyday, but that something isn’t always a blog post and may never even be read by anyone other than myself. I have a huge folder of drafts and half-finished book proposals and unpublished personal essays, some of which date back to 2008. (My goal for the summer is to actually complete some of them.)
When I’m not blogging, I’m fielding emails, researching story ideas, pitching articles, and finishing paid assignments. Speaking gigs, paid or not, also take a fair amount of work, since I have to write the speech, rehearse it, and budget in travel time. Luckily, since I mostly work from home, I can run errands, hit the gym, cook lunch, or hang out with the dog or the Roomie whenever I need a breather. Because I get to take mid-day breaks and sometimes travel for longer stretches, I tend to work until I go to bed and do at least half-days on weekends when I’m in Boston. (I don’t count trips to New York, by the way, toward travel. When I’m in New York, I usually do my regular day tasks while bouncing from work lunch to coffee meeting to happy hour networking. It’s much busier than being at home.) I measure my productivity and progress by the number of emails in my inbox. These days, getting down to 150 emails — many of which are reminders to self, such as, “Read This Amazing Article” — means I’m all caught up. There are also a lot of reader inquiries I get via email that I don’t ever publish on this blog, but I try nonetheless to answer those in a timely fashion. I used to be pretty bad about getting back to folks, and there were entire periods in college when I would just not respond at all, because I was dealing with depression and incapable of taking care of myself. Now that I’m a little more together, I try to be really diligent about replying to each and every single message from readers. (Obviously, I don’t do the same with PR folks, or that would make my mind explode.) There’s also the not-at-all-fun tasks of sending out invoices, faxing contracts, and chasing down clients who owe me money. Those types of career maintenance duties are my least favorite.
As part of my workday, I also do a ton of reading on topics that interest me and have (varying degrees of) relevance to my work. (Things I’ve been learning about over the past year: socialist feminism, the prison industrial complex, disability rights, and reproductive justice.) I also make an effort to promote causes that I care about, which is why I was blogging so frequently against the efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and why I’m now raising money to help women in Eastern Massachusetts pay for abortions. I don’t get paid for any of that stuff, but since I have a platform, I feel like I should use it to inform those who don’t have the luxury of reading up on social justice issues all the time. (And I hate that activism often feels like an echo chamber where you’re talking to the same 15 people. I know my readers come from a ton of different places and backgrounds, and part of the reason I love writing on my site is because I know I’m NOT preaching to the choir at all times. That said, it’s also why I wouldn’t characterize this site as a “safe space”. There are lots of lurkers!)
In conclusion, I get to do some pretty cool things throughout the course of my workday/week. But my income still qualifies me for free health care in Massachusetts. So there’s that.
(Also, FYI, this somewhat lengthy response to a reader question took approximately an hour to write. But since it’s the fifth or so question I’ve received on the topic of “What Do You Do All Day Anyway?”, I figured it was worth a thorough response!)
More burning questions? Ask Lena.
I met Rachel in 2007, way back in my sex blogging days, and one of the things I’ve long admired about her writing is its authenticity. She doesn’t pretend that sex is always a glamorous affair and she’s not afraid to be achingly honest about her own flaws and fears. (A recent piece of hers, for The Hairpin, is the perfect example of how relatable she is.) Not only does Rachel produce consistently great sex writing, she’s also one of the sweetest people I know and a great event organizer to boot. Because she’s incredibly humble, it took some time before I realized the breadth of her work. Then one day I stumbled upon the erotica section at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge and saw that she was responsible for editing nearly half the titles on the shelves. The following interview is about her experiences writing and editing erotica.
Rachel Kramer Bussel is a New York-based author, editor, blogger and event organizer. She is Senior Editor at Penthouse Variations, writes the Secrets of a Sex Writer column for SexIs Magazine, and hosted In The Flesh Reading Series from 2005-2010. She has edited 38 anthologies, including Surrender, Gotta Have It, Best Bondage Erotica 2011, Fast Girls, Passion, Orgasmic, Spanked, Bottoms Up, Please, Sir, Please, Ma’am, Crossdressing, and Best Sex Writing 2008, 2009 and 2010, and won 5 IPPY (Independent Publisher) Awards for them.
Lena: How did you get started writing erotica and how does it fit in to the rest of your writing career?
Rachel: I wrote my first erotica story, “Monica and Me,” in 1999. It was for Shar Rednour’s anthology Star*fcker, and I’d gotten started reading erotica at the end of college (1996) and kept on reading more of it during law school (1996-1999). One of the reasons I even considered trying it out is that so much of published erotica takes the form of short stories, which I think makes it highly accessible, and that has only grown in the ten-plus years I’ve been writing. Someone could write a story today and see it on bookstore shelves by December, which is very fast for the world of book publishing. For me that early feedback spurred me on to keep writing short stories and, later, editing anthologies, and now I have 37 anthologies out with many more on the way.
I’m naturally more of a non-fiction writer, and for a long time I thought of the erotica as a fun diversion. Fiction is generally more challenging, but when it works, it can be very freeing because you aren’t as constrained as you are in non-fiction. You can play with form and character, and lately I’ve been writing in the third person, whereas most of my first stories were first person. I’ve written straight male and female erotica, bisexual female erotica, lesbian erotica, gay male erotica…I’ve written about fire eaters, boxers, dishwashing, celebrities, French fries, spanking, and been inspired by everything from tabloid stories to a coke restaurant that used to be open in my neighborhood (that inspired my story “Secret Service” in Best Women’s Erotica 2010, about a restaurant where women can get cunnilingus in the back). I’ve had to push myself to keep it vibrant and interesting and to me the sense that anything can be fodder for writing is shared with my non-fiction. They co-exist and I think balance each other out, just as running a blog about cupcakes is a welcome relief from writing about sex. I try very hard to step out of that box of “sex writing” and write about other topics that interest me as well.
Lena: Do you have any literary influences?
Rachel: There are authors whose work I read early on when I was reading erotica, like Tsaurah Litzky, who I continue to return to. For non-fiction, writers like Susie Bright, Carol Queen, Sallie Tisdale, Lisa Palac and Tristan Taormino have been hugely influential on me. In terms of actual inspiration for writing, though, I’d say I’m often influenced by music I like; my book Fast Girls was inspired by the song of the same name by the indie pop band Sarge, and I was able to get permission to use the song in the book trailer. I’m always reading, and while those are some of my favorite writers about sex, I learn a lot from people writing in all kinds of forms.
Lena: Sexual preferences are highly individual. How do you edit someone else’s erotic story? What do you think makes for good erotica?
Rachel: I tend to read all the submissions for an anthology and select the ones I like best, and I rarely make substantive changes. Once in a while I’ll ask for a small revision, but since it’s on spec (my publisher then has to approve the stories), I don’t like to ask for huge edits, nor do I usually have time to do so. Plus I like to keep the integrity of the author’s voice and style intact. So I don’t usually do heavy edits, and consider it a highly subjective process. For me, I like a story that grabs me at the start and pulls me in, and I also like stories that surprise me. For instance, when I edited Orgasmic, a book of erotica focused on female orgasm, I got a lot of stories about sex toys, a lot of stories about women failing to come and then figuring out how, and a few of those made it into the book, but I particularly loved the stories that took that broad topic and ran with it, like “Chemistry” by Velvet Moore, about a woman who’s turned on by science.
To me, good erotica tells you something about what turns the character on, what moves them sexually. It creates a mood, and sometimes that mood is all about arousal, but it can also speak to other emotions and situations. I like editing anthologies because I can include a range of work, ranging from the humorous to the utterly mind-blowing and intense, the kind of story that you need a little time after you finish reading it to process.
So it’s hard to say; I don’t feel like I can dictate what makes “good porn” or even “what I like.” I will say that the more senses and details you can bring to the story, the better; not details like “and then she put her right hand on his left thigh,” but detail about the who, what, when, where, why of the sex. Sometimes authors get so caught up in describing the sex acts that they don’t add enough of these other sensations and descriptions, and to me that is the part that is most interesting. Out of all the people in the world, why are these two or three or however many people together? Why are they doing what they’re doing? I go back to those ideas when I’m stuck. It can be challenging because in real life we don’t always think that way, like “I’m attracted to X person because of Y qualities.”
Lena: Do you consider your erotic writing to be a feminist endeavor?
Rachel: That’s a tough question so I guess I’ll say yes and no. Yes, in the sense that I consider myself a feminist and when I’m writing from a female point of view I am exploring female sexuality, and I often try to include bisexual characters in my stories, which tend to be driven by the character’s motivations and feelings more so than a specific action. At the same time, I feel like to call my erotic writing “feminist” is not entirely accurate. I don’t see it as an activist endeavor, but as fiction that is designed to entertain and arouse. That’s is primary job. So while I don’t think it’s antifeminist, I don’t know that it’s feminist, because I don’t know that that label can be applied to erotica. It’s complicated, too, because then it gets into “what is feminist sex?” If I write about a woman who likes having her face slapped by her lover, as I did in “Manners” in Gotta Have It, is that feminist?
Lena: Sexual fantasies aren’t always politically correct. How do you distinguish between what’s objectifying and what’s empowering?
Rachel: I don’t feel like that’s my call to make for anyone else, but I try my best not to include stories in my anthologies which are personally offensive to me. I especially appreciate when authors can take a “taboo” subject and breathe life into it, and sometimes I think that can be done exceptionally well in fiction, perhaps better than in non-fiction. There’s a story called “Daddy’s Girl” by Teresa Noelle Roberts that I published in Spanked: Red-Cheeked Erotica, that both describes and explains a Daddy/girl role-playing relationship. That’s something that unnerves a lot of people and is not generally something I’d include in one of my anthologies (I don’t publish any stories with scat, incest, bestiality and don’t include underage characters engaging in sexual acts), but she did it so well and made it both hot and educational, that I added it. She broke down the ways the role-playing is a fantasy and that if you take away the fantasy context, it would be both something completely different and not erotic at all for that character. So that’s one way I do think erotica can break down sexual fantasies and show the humanity behind them, even when they’re fiction.
Lena: What are some ways in which erotica can be used for radical change? Since alternative pornography represents a relatively small fraction of the industry, do you think it is an effective form of resistance?
Rachel: I’m not sure I can answer this question, but I think for a lot of people, the mere existence of written erotica about a wide range of sexualities (such as in my anthology Crossdressing) shows that there are other people out there doing things you may or may not be doing, or that you may be interested in but need to keep hidden from others in your life. Sexual desire is still highly policed and I think there is still a lot of shame and confusion for a lot of people about sex, and if erotica can help ease some of that, I’m thrilled, I just don’t want to overstate the case for erotica as a tool of social change.
I’m hopeful that it’s broadened people’s minds, whether or not that impacts their personal sexuality. Again, I don’t see writing or editing erotica as a political act per se, because I think if I did, I’d feel a giant burden when selecting any stories, which is already a very difficult task. I do think that presenting ways of looking at sexuality outside the model of heterosexual intercourse in erotica is a powerful form of self-expression and does let readers know there are other ways of exploring sex. I think the boom in women’s erotica in particular has spoken to the desire on the part of readers for work that treats women’s sexuality as something diverse and worthy of attention.
Enjoy this interview? Rachel writes frequently about sex, dating, books and pop culture. You can follow her work at Lusty Lady and her enormously popular group blog for cupcake aficionados, Cupcakes Take the Cake.
The above reader asks a lot of common questions that I’ve previously addressed, but are worth revisiting in today’s Freelance Friday. Here’s a quick rundown of some basic “Getting Started” questions, along with links for further information:
How do I get my first professional assignments? Should I work for free?
Internships are a common way to get some good clips under your belt and build a portfolio (while hopefully “earning” school credit at the same time). It’s a lot easier to get a byline published in a major magazine as one of their interns than as a freelancer sending in a cold pitch. This is exactly the approach that Britt Julious took to establish her niche as an arts and culture writer.
That said, there’s a lot of disagreement among writers about whether you should write for free. (Many internships in publishing are uncompensated.) Some people think it’s a necessary evil given the lack of paid opportunities in the industry; others insist that this shuts out the less wealthy and that everyone should be compensated for work, whether or not they’re an “intern”. Outside of campus publications, I’ve never done free writing unless it’s for a cause or organization I support, but again, it really depends on your financial circumstances, the available opportunities in your area, and your experience. Refer to this Freelance Friday entry to see more tips on getting your first gigs as a writer.
How do you move from smaller publications to bigger publications (and commissions)?
Often, it means leveraging one article for the next, so that each successive assignment reinforces your prior experience and makes you more qualified to write the type of pieces that you’re really interested in. Rachel Hills, an Australian journalist who now works from London, gave the following advice in an interview with me: “The easiest way to gain the trust of an editor you haven’t worked with, or who doesn’t know you, is to show you’ve been vetted by another editor or publication they respect. For me, The Sydney Morning Herald led to The Age, which led to a part-time subediting gig at the magazine, which led to freelance work at that magazine, which led to freelance work at another magazine, and so on and so forth until eventually I had enough clips to get a quick and enthusiastic ‘yes’ from Vogue. It can be a long, slow process, but one thing really does lead to another.” Rachel also talked in her Q&A about how to introduce yourself to editors you don’t know.
Can one actually make a living as a freelancer?
It’s hard, but it’s possible! For me, I maintain financial stability by lining up contracts for long-term work that involves a package of assignments. That way, I know that I don’t have to constantly pitch one-off pieces, which can be a pretty stressful and time-consuming process. In one of my Freelance Friday interviews, former Marie Claire web editor Diana Vilibert, discussed some of the financial realities of freelance life: getting paid late, living in a high-cost metropolitan area, and negotiating fees. She says, “I do think that freelancing full-time is possible, but it’s certainly not for everyone. It needs to suit your personality, first of all—both in terms of the actual day-to-day working from home and lack of office atmosphere sense, and also in terms of being able to accept the instability and roll with it, without going out of your mind. And in order to keep the crazy at bay, I think it’s really important to be financially prepared to jump into freelancing. If you have a decent chunk of change saved up, the bad days/weeks/months won’t be as scary as they would be if you were on your last pack of ramen.” You should keep that in mind before you choose freelancing over a more stable career.
If it’s so hard to be a freelance writer, why do it?
Because it gives me unparalleled flexibility and autonomy in terms of the projects I want to take on. I get to research the subjects I’m most interested in and incorporate my passion for social justice in my writing. I can set my own hours, work from home, and even move abroad like Caroline Kinneberg, a former Lucky editor who left New York for Paris. At the same time, I can maintain a career as a speaker, visit schools, and talk to students. It’s really important to me that I can do on-the-ground activism even though I’m no longer an undergraduate, and it would be really hard to do speaking engagements or run events like Feminist Coming Out Day if I had a regular day job.
These are just some answers to get you started. Professional writers who are reading: do you have anything to add? Please feel free to chime in via comments! My archives at Freelance Friday also contain interviews, advice, and posts about my personal experience with writing. Go here to submit additional questions or to get in touch with me if you’d like to be an interview subject for a future feature :)