Science Online ’09: From Blogging to Paying Bills

The last session of Saturday I spent in a room with ~30 other eager individuals wishing to be imparted magical advice on how to make the leap from blogging (essentially for free for most of us) to getting paid to write articles. The session How to become a (paid) science journalist: advice for bloggers was moderated by Rebecca Skloot who blogs at Culture Dish and Tom Levenson of the Inverse Square Blog. These two individuals were the perfect moderators for the session, both being accomplished journalist but book authors as well, and of course bloggers. I won’t spend much time on this summary because it was mostly for myself, to get advice for pitching stories in the future. Here are a few of the main points:

  • Blogs make good “writing labs” (a quote from Jennifer Ouellette from last yers conference) so long as you pay attention to story structure
  • Nothing is more important than Structure. Tom defined it for me as a paragraph with a point to make that ends at the end of the paragraph. There is a beginning, middle and an end. This may sound trivial but it not always easy to do such things effectively.
  • You need to spend time to craft a great query letter. This is your introduction to the editor, your only opportunity to impress. Rebecca has a wonderful pdf file of tips for writing query letters. I’ve used it before and have had results (any negative outcome was my fault after I got the initial in…). You can download it here.
  • Many opportunities really are discussed in the bar or over lunch. Its not just in the movies
  • While a blog is good practice and provides a ready portfolio for any potential employer, it is also a distraction. Each minute spent blogging is a minute not spent on getting the next article published, and hence no pay.
  • Editors WILL read your blog and google your name. If you are too controversial, ramble on or do not have a good writing style you will be ignored. For this reason, Iv’e been thinking of posting my favorite blog posts on my personal website where I have my resume. More to keep a tally of the “good” stuff, but also direct potential employers to a location where they can find out all about me and read my choices without wading through the you-tube videos and political rants.
  • A good way to get into a magazine or newspaper is to write book reviews. They generally pay nothing or very little but give you clips to show off and start a relationship with an editor. Rebecca generously imparts her wisdom on writing and breaking into book reviews here.
  • Editors move around alot and they like to keep a stable of good writers with them. In fact, future employers will often check who the editor has as his/her stable of writers before hiring. Therefore, its good to show some loyalty to an editor.

There is probably lots of things I’m forgetting, but these are my initial notes on that session.

6 Replies to “Science Online ’09: From Blogging to Paying Bills”

  1. Another option is to have a different blog that’s got your serious science articles, which you can link to your website. You could link to it or simply copy the best posts to it. I’ve experimented with multiple blogs and I’m still working on it. I have one that is designed specifically to be linked to my website. I have a catch-all, A Novelist’s Mind for everything I’m interested in. And a third that I’m not quite sure what to do with, Lilian’s Lighthouse, which has changed forms a couple of times already. Science journalism is a different field from fiction, but I just want to encourage you and tell you to hang in there and keep at it. It took me around ten years to start making a living as a novelist. It was a long haul, but I got there, and I would imagine it would be quicker in journalism.

  2. That’s pretty much what I took away from the session as well. It really was helpful, especially those small points about structure!

  3. Thanks for covering this session. I really wanted to attend it. The point about a blog being too controversial is why I made it a point to tone down my own writing and make it more idea-oriented rather than inflammatory-oriented. The inflammatory stuff got way more hits, but I don’t need my coworkers seeing that side of my personality.

    Thanks for emphasizing STRUCTURE. We tend to forget it in our online discourse… as well as grammar and spelling sometimes. : )

  4. For someone like me who is mostly an “off-the-cuff” blogger, the structure part is probably the most difficult. It is certainly worth it in the long run to pay attention to writing. People will enjoy reading the post more and I’ll be more proud of what I write.

    I don’t mind being a little inflammatory. I’m usually right so its no big deal ;)

    But I think a blog on my homepage where I just copy the code of my good posts over to keep track of them. Like Angelo, I tried the “best of” for my other blog near the top of the blog. But potential employers will flip through the posts to get an idea of you anyways. So unless you put something good in the topspot all the time, something you might not want an editor judge you on might be up there.

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