Open Access vs. Intellectual Property Rights

 Peter Eckersley at the New Scientist has posted a very interesting discussion on the intellectual property / open access debate. In a 24 June 2009 article, “Finding a fair price for free knowledge,” he acknowledges the conflict between advocates of scarcity and the advocates of abundance, and takes a balanced look at each side.

Finally, he suggests that “when we build institutions to promote the abundance of knowledge, everybody wins. When it comes to knowledge, you can never have too much of a good thing.”

This is a debate that freelance writers and editors need to follow. As producers of content and processors of knowledge, we are deeply impacted by intellectual property rights issues and the open access debate. While knowledge must be shared, there must be adequate financial incentives for those who process it and prepare it for general consumption. Although I would continue to write even if I couldn’t earn a living at it, I’d have less time to do it, as I’d have to earn a living another way. I believe this is true of most freelance writers, and fewer writers working fewer hours would ultimately result in less knowledge disseminated.

As Eckersley suggests, open access is here to stay, and that’s not a bad thing. I believe that if you follow this issue, you can be prepared for any changes that come, and ready to continue profiting from the work you love. What do you think?

Most Successful Freelancers Have “AND” in Their Job Description

I meet a lot of freelance writers and editors, and the ones who seem to be most successful have an “and” in their job description or elevator speech. One of our busiest NAIWE members is not only a proofreader and copyeditor, but is also the author of local histories. Another member not only writes middle-grade fiction, but also illustrates juvenile literature and does manuscript evaluations for others.

Isn’t this contrary to the idea of specialization and niching? Not at all, as long as you choose your “and” wisely. Troy Howell, the member who writes, illustrates, and evaluates is able to use the skills, knowledge, resources and contacts that he gained in the publishing field for all of his work. Susan Sheppard‘s proofreading and copyediting skills stand her in good stead as she is writing local histories, and she is able to transfer her genealogical research skills to history writing as well.

We have other members who have discovered that diversification isn’t only for investment portfolios, and passive income is a wonderful alternative or supplement to a dollars-for-hours service business. I’ll be discussing this idea more in the next few issues of The Edge, so don’t miss them!

How Has NAIWE Helped You? A Member Shares Her Experience

I recently received a copy of the following note from NAIWE member Mary Mowen. She had been contacted by a prospective member, who asked: “How helpful has NAIWE been to you as a writer?  From your vantage point, is the NAIWE a good professional affiliation?” She forwarded her response, noting that perhaps others had similar questions and would be interested in the answer. I appreciate Mary’s willingness to respond to a query like this, and hope that the response will be helpful to others.


NAIWE has inspired me to market myself as a freelance writer/editor much more aggressively than I have in the past.  I think membership in a reliable, respected professional organization is important to members of any profession; and it is probably more crucial to those of us who work independently.

I appreciate the opportunities NAIWE provides for networking with other freelancers; ours is a pretty solitary enterprise, after all, and it’s good to know that there’s a free database of pros in almost every aspect of writing and editing available to me through the site, people I can call on when I find myself in need of expertise that’s different from my own.

[Director] Janice Campbell impresses me very much.  Besides providing a wealth of resources for members on the NAIWE site, she goes out of her way to provide as much personal help to individual members as they need.  I appreciate being only an e-mail away from her patient, kind, answers and the broad scope of her knowledge of writing, editing, and business matters, and have called on her several times in the six months since I joined NAIWE.   As a successful self-marketed professional, she truly leads by example, a trait I value very much.

I’ve decided to set up my business site on the NAIWE host pages rather than elsewhere.  I guess if I was going to sum up in a few words what the organization has meant to me, I would say that it has helped me to take myself and my abilities more seriously, and encouraged me to have a much more structured and diligent approach to working from home as a freelancer.

Don’t know what type writing or writing-related work you do, but hope this helps.  NAIWE seems constantly to be seeking to improve their services and their site.  That speaks very well for them.


Mary Mowen 

P.S. I don’t know how I could’ve forgotten to mention that I am presently hard at work on a large and lucrative editing job received through a NAIWE referral.  A big membership plus, without question–opportunities to land more jobs increase through the NAIWE network.

There you have it: inspiration, networking, support, services, and referrals. Is membership in NAIWE the key to making your freelance business more profitable and rewarding? Join us, and let NAIWE help you build your ideal business!

The Strunk and White Debate: Umpteenth Round

I didn’t know that The Elements of Style was celebrating a 50th anniversary until I came across an interesting pair of posts this week.

Strunk and White’s venerable style guide came under fire by Geoffrey K. Pullam of the The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Chronicle Review. In an article titled “50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice,” Pullam shares a curmudgeonly critique of the authors and their grammar and style suggestions.

Michael Leddy of Orange Crate Art offers a thoughtful point-by-point response in his April 14 post, and shares a few links to other writers who have joined the debate.

The whole argument is an interesting round in the larger debate about language and its evolution and use. If you decide to blog about it, please drop by to leave a link so that others can join the debate.

Become a Successful Freelance Writer or Editor

The Renegade Writers have written a thought-provoking post on 6 Ways to Kick the Freelance Fear. What is it that holds so many writers and editors in Pepto-Bismol jobs? Usually it’s the fear of financial pain, or a simple lack of confidence in their ability to get a freelance business off the ground. These six tips from the Renegade Writers may be just the thing to get you moving!

My personal tip for dealing with the fear of financial pain or lack of confidence in your ability to support yourself as a freelancer is to start your business while you’re still employed (as long as doing so isn’t ruled out by your employment contract).

If you have the self-discipline to moonlight, and you establish a strong network of contacts and clients, you’ll feel much more confident about taking the freelance plunge. Needless to say, moonlighting must be done ethically, without violating employment agreements or poaching client lists. You can’t be successful in anything without a foundation of integrity.

Freelance writing and editing can be a wonderful way of life, as long as you remember that it’s a business. Take the time to learn about marketing, as well as about the craft of writing. Learn to use networking, just as you learn to use the possessive apostrophe. If you focus on maintaining a balance between the joy of practicing your craft and the demands of running a business, you can be successful as an independent writer or editor!

Is it an Apostrophe Catastrophe?

According to an opinion column by A. Barton Hinkle of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the world is “heading for an apostrophe catastrophe.” What is the tipping point? It seems to be a recent decision in Birmingham, England, which has “formally done away with the possessive apostrophe on street signs.”

Noting that the U.S. did away with apostrophes in place names long ago (aside from a few notable exceptions), Hinkle offers a look at the possible consequences of creeping grammar laxity.

What do you think?

The Future of Fiction- Alan Cheuse and Joshua Kendall

It was a full house last night at the Science Museum of Virginia as the James River Writers gathered to hear author and NPR book reviewer Alan Cheuse and Viking/Penguin Editor Joshua Kendall discuss the future of fiction. Despite gloomy news from the publishing industry, both speakers seemed optimistic about the quality of books they are seeing.

I took a few sketchy notes– here are excerpts.

AC on time allocation: He divides his day into thirds. The first third is for his own writing; the second third is writing for others– articles, reviews, etc.; the final third is spent watching movies. The highest priority comes first.

JK on one major trend he’s seeing: Books coming out in trade paper only, rather than in hardback first. AC noted that over 100 years ago, Herman Melville advocated that all books be published in paper, and move to hardback only if found worthy.

JK on how he chooses books: He sees 15-20 reasonably good books every week. After reading the first 40 pages or so, he’s able to tell whether the book is a good fit for his publisher. He often finds books that are “worthy of publication, but not by [Viking].” AC commented that in the 400 or so books that come across his desk every month, there are many worthy of review, but also, not by him. (He reviews one book a week for NPR, and has less than three minutes to talk about it.)

Both speakers repeatedly affirmed that publishing and reviewing are subjective, and have much to do with individual taste. They advised that writers not take it personally when they hear, “I like it, but it’s not something I can [review, publish] at this time.”

On choosing to write commercial or literary fiction: Authors should know why they write. JK- An author with literary tastes who cynically chooses to write something commercial will find it hard to go to work each day, and will likely be disappointed with what he or she writes. On the other hand, a writer of commercially popular fiction (Elmore Leonard was cited as an example) who writes with obvious enjoyment can produce very good genre works.

JK on the connection between reading and literature: Remember why you’re writing, and don’t lose the connection with literature. Read critically and analytically and observe why good books work well.

On the place of reading in the culture:

AC- We’re in a war. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, we have “a republic [of letters], if we can keep it.” The population is growing, but reader numbers are holding steady, which means that the percentage of readers in the population is declining. Readers and writers must proselytize.

JK- We must try to maintain the essential kernel of people who read, who buy books, who read newspapers, and who engage with reading and writing on a daily basis. AC paraphrased Samuel Johnson’s remark, commenting that people who read the news online deserve to read the news online!

On audiobooks: Both speakers use audiobooks occasionally, but AC noted that they are like an art form, but are not art. They don’t allow the pacing or meditation of reading.

JK on getting work ready for submission: Surround yourself with rings of readers: spouse, writers’ group, writers’ conferences, workshops, and finally, an agent. Don’t submit your manuscript before it’s fully ready– you don’t get a second chance with an agent, so be sure that what you are sending in is the best work you can possibly produce.

In response to a question from a teen: AC advised young writers  to “read as much as you can, write as much as you can, live as much as you can. You can’t be a good writer without reading.”

A final word from AC: “A good book will eventually find its way.


You may also enjoy a related article, “Hot Off the Press” by Colleen Curran, previewing this Writing Show.

Don’t forget the 3-question survey for writer and editors at It’s open through the end of January.


This post was included in”The Business of Freelance Writing Carnival, Edition 53,” which contains other interesting posts for writers and editors. Enjoy!

Words to Be Banished from the Queen’s English

It’s time once again for Lake Superior State University’s annual List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness. While it was tempting to use all the words in this post, they’ve done a nice job in their announcement and cartoon, so you may as well read more at the original site.

If you could delete a few overused or excessively trendy words or phrases, what would you choose?

I think my vote would go to “at the end of the day.” I’m really tired of hearing that metaphorical day dragged out to wrap up virtually every news commentary I’ve heard in the last few months. Why are these silly phrases so contagious? Oh, right. They’re viral.

Is a Journalism Degree Worth the Cost?

In “Tough Crowd: Is J-School Worth It?” Jossip blogger David Hauslaib considers whether an expensive graduate degree is worth the time and cost.

Noting that graduate school used to be the place where students could network and make friends in the field, which often resulted in an entry-level copy-editing job, he states,  “…today, even the most grunt-worthy positions are being snatched up by ex-editors and the unemployed droves that used to work for Time Inc. So is it worth it to plunk down the cash, bite the bullet, and go back to school?” He goes on to evaluate costs and returns for three of the top journalism schools in the country.

I found some of the follow-up comments to this post as interesting as the post itself, and they reinforce the idea that experience, plus knowledge in at least one specialized area, and good marketing skills can help writers and editors build a solid freelance career that can take them as far, or even farther, than a graduate degree. That’s a good thing for those of us who are fundamentally unsuited for institutionalization in the corporate  or academic world!

Taking Words Out of the Dictionary

I came across “Words associated with Christianity and British history taken out of children’s dictionary,” an article in the British newspaper, The Weekly Telegraph. I’ve always preferred Oxford dictionaries over any of the other choices, but it looks as if the new edition of their Junior Dictionary has lost its way.

According to the article by Julie Henry, “Oxford University Press has removed words like “aisle”, “bishop”, “chapel”, “empire” and “monarch” from its Junior Dictionary and replaced them with words like “blog”, “broadband” and “celebrity”. Dozens of words related to the countryside have also been culled.” The trend is disturbing.

Words matter. When pop culture references virtually replace history, nature, and the church in a dictionary intended for children, the results can’t be good. Without a strong vocabulary, cultural literacy becomes a distant mirage. What was Oxford University Press thinking?