Newsletter 2018-12

In this Issue

From the President: Carolyn Miller
Reinvention is the mother of survival: Fred Gebhart
What I learned from failing to find a book publisher: James Carberry
ASJA Holiday Party

From the President

by M. Carolyn Miller

Finding my way — again

About a year ago, after 40 years as a freelance writer and creative instructional designer, I began to feel that I was losing my way. Much of my career has been spent hopscotching between passion and pay-the-bills work and in the past, such shifts in direction were intentional. This time it was unplanned.

Blame it on the disruption of a cross-country move, the loss of clients I couldn’t coddle face-to-face, a network that was slowly retiring, or my own sense of urgency now that I was in my sixties. Whatever it was, it caused me to take a break, however unintentional, from the business of being a writer.

“I also began to see a path forward…”

I’ve taken such breaks before—to get a graduate degree, to boost my creative skills via a day job, or to focus on a “passion project”—while earning just enough as a writer to pay the bills. This time, I also took a part time job at a local kitchen store, in part to “up” my game in kitchenware after moving here with minimal belongings.

The retail stint has given me a new level of respect for those who work on the front lines of customer service. It has also made me thankful to have a creative career I am as passionate about as my culinary colleagues are with theirs.

At November’s ASJA Portland meeting, I was reminded of that. I also began to see a path forward “doing the work I love” both alone and in partnership with others. That’s what happens when you get together every month with seasoned creative professionals who are smart, funny and articulate. They remind me — and all of us as this newsletters theme of reinvention notes — that detours are part of the creative path, that opportunities are everywhere, and that “we’re all in this together.”

Carolyn writes business how-to and feature articles. She is also an instructional designer.

If you have questions about the Portland chapter, email her at

Reinvention is the Mother of Survival

by Fred Gebhart

Fred Gebhart

Reinvention is the Mother of Survival

The freelance world keeps saying the sky is falling. Familiar publications, the few that are left, are collapsing and laid-off staffers are staggering out of the rubble to become competitors. News holes are down, again, rates are down, again, and wannabes are still giving it away for free. Time to reinvent yourself. Again.

I started writing travel in the 1980s because I’m a travel junkie. And quickly discovered that travel writing is more lifestyle than a path to financial happiness. About the time I realized I could write every cover story for a year in any of the market leading pubs and still not pay the bills, I added consumer science and technology, then health care.

“All it takes is reinventing yourself. Again.”

As the economy sputtered in the early 1990s, a decade of covering drug therapy developments helped move me into physician practice specialty publications. When the dotcom boom collapsed in 2000-2001, years of writing for physicians provided the credibility and the background to expand into online reporting.

And when recession slammed in 2008, I went back to school for a professional certificate in FDA regulatory affairs from San Diego State University, the core of their online MS program. Grad school isn’t cheap, but the advanced credential boosted my rates and returned more than my entire academic investment in less than a year.

Not happy with the way today’s markets and editors are treating you? Reinvent yourself and move up to a better class of client. The approaches that worked ten years ago, or even last year, probably won’t work as well today.

But communication skills are highly portable. If you can write for insurance agents, or emergency room docs or 30-something moms, there’s no reason you can’t move those same skills to any other audience. All it takes is reinventing yourself. Again.

Fred Gebhart is a long-time medical writer and recovering travel junkie. He can be reached at

What I Learned From Failing to Find a Book Publisher

by James Carberry

A few years ago, at a San Francisco conference hosted by ASJA’s Northern California chapter, I was chatting with a corporate executive. I write a blog for businesses about how to hire and work with professional writers, and I was curious.

“Do businesses value writers as much as accountants and lawyers,” I asked. “More so,” he replied.

For businesses, writing content that grabs the attention of audiences is challenging, and writers can help. So I wondered, Could I turn my hire-a-writer blog into a book?

I decided to find out.

I was living in San Francisco at the time, and I went to a “Pitchapalooza,” a road show and workshop hosted by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry of The Book Doctors, a business that helps writers get published. Each of the 40 or so writers present had one minute to pitch a book idea, and mine on hiring a writer was well received. (A writer pitching writers on a book about hiring writers — what’s not to like?)

Fired up by my pitching experience, I wrote to agents and publishers, spoke by phone to a New York agent I met through ASJA, and met with a few agents at the San Francisco Writers Conference. I worked my networks. I pitched passing strangers.

But I couldn’t sell my idea.

One editor liked it, but his publisher didn’t. A lawyer saved me from signing a bad contract with another publisher. Another agent said he couldn’t find any books on hiring accountants or lawyers, so why a book on writers? I told him businesses are a lot less experienced at hiring writers. Besides, writers are the greatest people in the world. Worth more than accountants or lawyers.

“…my search for an agent or publisher was not a wasted effort.”

Anyway, I’m now looking into publishing an ebook on hiring a writer, and I got some great advice at our chapter’s November meeting on how to go about it. But my search for an agent or publisher was not a wasted effort. I learned a lot about how to write a query letter and a book proposal, and how to pitch a book idea. I’ll be better prepared for my next book project.

Say, can I interest you in a book on…?

A former Wall Street Journal reporter, James Carberry specializes in writing and editing services for companies and professionals. He blogs at