Thursday, July 28, 2011


When something works well, has great features, is comfortable and fits your lifestyle, you might not notice or appreciate how many elements go into making a product.

I bought my new PC online, so I didn’t get to assess whether I’d like the keyboard/mouse it came with. I have small hands, so I need to be able to easily reach keys I use often. Sometimes I get forearm pain after many hours of typing, recording and editing days in a row, even if I take breaks.

I didn’t like my new peripherals that much. The keys seemed hard to press, made a lot of noise, and the mouse was harder to click and slide than my old one.

Buying another k/m online didn't seem like a good idea, despite many choices, because I couldn’t test them and repackaging and shipping returns can be a pain and/or costly. I went to Office Depot, which allows a two week in store credit exchange. They had a good selection of wireless keyboards, which I tried in the store. But standing and typing for a couple of minutes isn’t the same as really working.

I bought a Logitech (the brand I had before, and liked but I don't think they make that model anymore) ergonomic wave style keyboard and mouse, which was easy to install with a USB. Loved the way the deep curves on the mouse fit my hand. But looking the curving keys made me seasick, and the keys were spaced too far apart, so sometimes my fingers landed on cracks.

I went to a Best Buy, but they didn’t have as big a selection, and I'd already seen a couple of the options they offered.

Back the new keyboard went. I bought a Microsoft. This one had a “new” mouse design, but it was much too large for my hand, and it was heavier than other mice. The bottom of the keyboard curved down, so the CTRL keys were hard to reach. The F keys were high up and really tiny. My arms hurt after hours of use. Back that one went.

So after all the time and effort spent shopping, buying and retuning, I’m finding that the original keyboard is better than I’d first thought, except for the loud noise of the keys.

No product (or person) is perfect...compromise is the key. Pun intended.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Going Beyond the Call

A rule of thumb is that talent should be seen and not heard. We’re usually hired to read whatever copy we’re given, whether we think it’s good or not, and usually don’t voice our opinions. That’s because many clients have worked long and hard to come up with the exact verbiage and because most talent probably don’t have extensive advertising or corporate writing/editing experience.

Sometimes keeping quiet is easier to do than others. I’ve bitten my tongue a couple of times. Occasionally I come across copy that is convoluted, confusing, poorly written or rife with enough errors I can’t in good conscience record it. As gently as possible, I’ll tell the client that while of course I will record as written, here’s a suggestion about how I’d change this paragraph.

I can’t think of a situation when such clients haven’t agreed, and then hired me to edit, and/or rewrite or write their scripts. At times I just make the writing a little easier to understand and/or snazzier. But there are times when I also need to do research to verify content and, to create a new term of art, de-engineerize copy. Now I’m helping a client write a multi-hundred PowerPoint slide e-learning course full of technical jargon and equipment models.

Why aren’t scripts 100% ready to record? My theories include:

-too many chefs in some corporate kitchens…perhaps a lot of hands adding content contributions to the pot so it doesn't blend well.

-work overload and time crunches. Some chefs have too many dishes to prepare at once. Or maybe a sous chef didn’t thoroughly complete his/her portion of the recipe.

The point of the story: in today’s marketplace, offering a variety of skill sets can make Gainfully Unemployed freelancers more marketable and enable us to a) do more for our clients so they view us as resources and b) grow our businesses.

In addition to your primary service, what experience do you have that can benefit your clients? How do you make them aware of additional offerings?

Show them how you can go above and beyond the call.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Working Actor

I keep meeting people who say they’ve been meaning to get into voiceover. But when they realize it’s not all glamour and is actual work, much more than just reading into a mic, many change their minds.

Building any acting career—especially one that pays (there’s quite a lot of free or very low paying work in Chicago)--takes time and effort. Some actors may think that as soon as they have an agent (or agents), they can sit back and wait for auditions to roll in. Not every client wants to go through a talent agency, probably to avoid fees.

In addition to learning as much as you can about craft and industry, believe self-marketing is essential. (This includes keeping your agent(s) and casting directors up to date on work you’ve been doing. I do need to do more of that.) I’ve booked some great gigs through agents this year, but so far my steadiest, biggest jobs are from clients I found myself. Right now they’re keeping me very busy. But if I have a dry spell, I'll seek additional clients.

Having a client return and offer you more work without auditioning is rewarding and time saving. If you do a great job, and if you’re reliable and professional (this is big—several clients have told me they’ve worked with unreliable or difficult talent), word can spread within that company, leading to still more work. Various project managers from one client keep hiring me; I just completed an e-learning course and have two more on the horizon. A project manager called yesterday to say I’m so brilliant he won’t let others “poach” me, though apparently they want to.

And if you can offer an additional skill they need, even better. Because I’m also an aspiring author and critique for a couple of published authors (NYT bestseller Simone Elkeles and author Terri Reed, and write freelance articles, I’m a good and very picky editor. One client has me edit all of his fairly technical scripts. Also, you can be a good writer for the eye, but not understand how to write for the ear.

A good thing about recording from home is that, as long as I meet deadlines, I can do the work at any time of day or night. So if I have a big audition or need to report to a studio by day, I can continue with independent projects at night.

Becoming a consistently working actor takes time, patience, persistence and belief mixed with talent, professionalism and opportunity (if you’re not in it, you can’t win it). If you’re interested in being a working actor, keep learn. Take classes. Network. Listen to talent on agency websites. Can you do what they (we) do? Are you willing to put in the effort to build your business?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Winning the Golden Heart®!

     Romance Writers of America®, The Voice of Romance Fiction, has over 10,000 members worldwide. It offers two contests, the RITA® for published authors, and the Golden Heart® (GH) for the as yet unpublished. The awards ceremony is held at the end of the National Conference, which was in New York last week and emceed by Meg Cabot. Approximately 2,000 writers and industry professionals attended.
     Each year the GH receives a maximum of 1,200 entries in 10 categories. I’d entered the Inspirational category with my manuscript AT HIS COMMAND, set in medieval England. Five first round judges score each entry. The top 10% up to eight making the final round, which is judged by editors. Entries consist of 6 copies of 55 pages of the beginning of a manuscript and a synopsis.
     I was thrilled to get the call from an RWA board member that AHC had finaled. It’s like a shot in the arm...of joy, hope and validation. Other benefits include a golden heart pin and ribbon for our name badges (which leads to many congratulations), a certificate handed out at a reception, having our pictures and manuscript titles in the conference program, membership in a special chapter called the Golden Network (which offers networking and programs), befriending and sharing knowledge with other GH finalists, and opening agent and editor doors.
     Competition in my category included an author who’d already sold her manuscript and another who had won the GH twice (in other categories) and finaled multiple times (fairly rare).
     I sat at my assigned table, holding the hands of friend and NYT bestseller Simone Elkeles  and my escort. When the presenter called my name, I was so surprised I didn’t even look at the huge screen to see my picture and manuscript title. Thanks to my extensive background in improv and public speaking, I came up with a speech that many said was not only humorous but one of the best of the evening.
     The outpouring of congratulations in person and via phone, email and Facebook has been amazing.  I'm honored and grateful to have so many people who support my writing.
     Many GH winners quickly find an agent (if they didn’t already have one) and sell.  Some take longer.  But not all get an agent and/or sell their manuscripts.  Only time will tell what will happen to mine....