Gina covered a multitude of topics, from how she wants to get PR pitches to how to get started as a freelancer. Following is a recap of the chat. For more info on future chats, please follow @profnet and @editorev on Twitter, or check back here for details.
ProfNet: Hi, everyone. It’s time to start #ConnectChat. Our guest today is freelance writer @ginarobertsgrey. Gina is a prolific writer, covering health, consumer issues and finance for a variety of print and online markets. She has written for Glamour, Parents, Better Homes & Gardens, Self, Woman’s Day, EverydayHealth.com, MSN.com, AARP The Magazine and more. She also specializes in celeb profiles and has interviewed actors, politicians, singers, athletes, reality TV stars and other celebs. As if that weren’t enough, Gina also chairs the annual ASJA conference, the largest freelance writers conference in the country.
Gina: Hi, Maria and everyone.
@strussell: Hi, Gina. Looking forward to chatting.
@shelhorowitz: Hi, Gina.
Gina: Hi, Shel! Great to “see” you!
@Helen86: Looking forward to this!
ProfNet: Thanks for joining!
ProfNet: This is very exciting for me, as I’ve done hundreds of your ProfNet queries myself :-)
Gina: Yes, you sure have! And I'm very grateful!
ProfNet: It's always my pleasure! Let me get things started. What’s a typical day like for you?
Gina: Busy, busy, busy. Finding/interviewing sources takes up a lot of time. Of course, writing, too. I'll add that finding the right source definitely speeds things up. And having a great working relationship with them to go to again helps. My average day is about 12-14 hours long.
@KidsAreHeroes: You need a vacation...
Gina: Yes, I do :-)
@Helen86: That's a LONG day!
Gina: Yes, but thankfully, I have lots of work. So I don't mind!
ProfNet: Do you mostly interview by phone or email?
Gina: I try to do what I can via email, at least the preliminary interview so I can maximize time.
ProfNet: Do you then always follow up with a phone call, or just if you have unanswered questions?
Gina: Usually only if I have unanswered questions. It's interesting, I've found many sources are starting to ask for email interviews.
@ashleycrd: How do you typically get your assignments?
Gina: About 65-70 percent are in-house ideas. Others I pitch.
@ashleycrd: What are the biggest mistakes people make in pitching you?
Gina: Not getting my name right, or the areas I cover; pitching me the same thing they've pitched a zillion other writers.
@Maxiboo15: How do you prefer to be pitched? Email/phone?
Gina: Email, email, email! Phone is an interruption.
ProfNet: To follow-up on @maxiboo15’s question: I’m sure you get hundreds of pitches a day. Which ones stand out?
Gina: Yes, I average 300 or more emails a day. At least half are pitches. The ones that stand out: a) get my name right; b) are about things in the areas I cover; and c) have great, snappy, grabbing leads. Links to stats and professional quotes help.
ProfNet: So you get about 150 pitches a day? That’s a lot to comb through!
Gina: Yes, it sure is. I admit I delete a lot. If it doesn't grab me right away, it's outta here.
@mwmcelroy: What makes a good email interview?
Gina: Getting right to the point and asking specific questions is essential.
@Maxiboo15: How do you determine who your pool of experts are?
Gina: I often go back to those I've used before, if they've been good. I like to add them to the stable and use them as much as possible.
ProfNet: That's why it's so important to build relationships. An interview is not a one-time thing.
@KidsAreHeroes: Can you recommend a journalist who writes about kids and philanthropy? (Just thought I'd ask a specific question. :-)) Our kids give back to the community without asking for anything in return. Have 187 kids from four countries.
Gina: I have a few ideas. Can you DM me after the chat?
@KidsAreHeroes: You're the best. I sure will.
@gnosisarts: What is the ideal length of an email pitch for you personally?
Gina: It depends. I'll read on if it's good. But, I'd add that about two paragraphs is a nice size -- enough to whet the appetite, and I can ask for more info if needed.
@gnosisarts: But isn't that the problem? What is "good" for one writer "stinks" for another sometimes.
Gina: True! I'd say a good rule of thumb is something you can read in 1 -2 minutes tops. A writer can ask for more if needed.
@gnosisarts: Can a pitch be too short?
Gina: I think content is more important than length. It can be too vague, off topic, etc.
ProfNet: Do you like being pitched via Twitter, or should people keep it to email?
Gina: Twitter pitches would be very cool. Hasn't happened yet, but I'd love that!
@gnosisarts: Funny you say that because we pitched about 20 journalists on Twitter and not one responded. In fact a few blocked us! But I have noticed that if a journalist reaches out to us first for a story, and then we follow up on Twitter, they're OK with that.
Gina: Ack! Well, I wouldn't block ya. I'd love that :-)
@helen86: Do you pitch your story ideas to publications?
Gina: Yes. And many assignments have come from PR pitches – MANY of them!
@mwmcelroy: Do you like pitches with sources' contact info, links to more info, offers to send a PDF of a research paper?
Gina: Yes! Links are great. Offers to send a PDF of a study or a research paper is a big plus. It makes it easier to determine if I can use/place it in a piece.
ProfNet: @mwmcelroy You can also add links to research papers, etc., to your ProfNet Connect profile and include the profile in your responses. :-)
@ashleycrd: Would you independently come to editor events?
@tkpleslie: #GetPublished / PR / friends: see feed for chat @ginarobertsgrey in on re: PR pitches via Twitter.
ProfNet: @tkpleslie And I'll have a recap of the chat on ProfNetConnect.com tomorrow. :-)
@Helen86: Very helpful!
ProfNet: Generally speaking, how has social media impacted your reporting?
Gina: It's made it easier to find professional and anecdotal sources and to publicize work/network.
@Maxiboo15: Who was your favorite celebrity interview?
@decormentor: Popping in to say hello due to @tkpleslie recommendation. Looks like great info!
ProfNet: Thanks for joining!
@decormentor: Thanks so much for the warm welcome. Happy to be listening in. :)
@strussell: How much does the subject line matter? What subjects capture your attention most?
Gina: I think the subject should tell me why I should open the e-mail. What is the pitch about? The ones that read like a headline from the Enquirer often aren't opened.
@strussell: So, straight and to the point in the subject. Got it.
ProfNet: Do you have a favorite story you've written? Or a favorite topic you cover?
Gina: I really love interviewing/profiling celebs. They often have such amazing stories. Insurance and health are fun, too.
ProfNet: We're about halfway through #ConnectChat. Great questions so far. Keep them coming!
Gina: Re: pitches/subject/faux pas, "Dear Writer" or "Dear Editor" = delete. Take time to know whom you are pitching. (Yes, I just received one of these.)
@jenniferduchene: Looks fascinating. Just popping in following @decormentor.
@CorpWriter4Hire: Just wrapped up a project. Now tuning into #connectchat. Hello to all from Cape Cod!
@susyneliseduris: Very interesting conversation on #connectchat.
ProfNet: @jenniferduchene @CorpWriter4Hire @SusynEliseDuris Hello! Thanks for joining. Feel free to jump in with questions for Gina.
@KidsAreHeroes: Do you like links to more material in your pitches?
Gina: Absolutely. Links in pitches are helpful to dig deeper and see if you can use in a piece.
@lanes0220: Good to know you find links useful.
@KidsAreHeroes: So giving straight-to-the-point info with a link to the full press release is OK?
Gina: Yes. Definitely.
@KidsAreHeroes: At least I'm doing something right. ;-)
@mindazetlin: My gripe: PR people respond to query with request for more info and without telling me who they're offering. I almost never respond.
@lanes0220: How do you like to be connected to experts? Do you go to people you already have a relationship with or do you like new ones?
Gina: If I'm in a rush, I go to people I have a relationship with. Otherwise, I use @ProfNet or @helpareporter to look for new sources.
@susyneliseduris: Someone mentioned a Twitter pitch. I've been successful with it. What I found works is specificity, brevity, and targeting the right audience.
@CorpWriter4Hire: I’m curious about how you conduct interviews: in person, phone, email? Do you record them?
Gina: I record all phone interviews and take notes during. I also do email ones.
@lanes0220: I’m curious as to how you decide on the topics you will write on. What makes you want to pitch an outlet your story?
Gina: It depends – if I've already covered it or it's been done; if it's something I think I can package into something else.
@lanes0220: Essentially, it gets back to knowing you and your topics.
Gina: You betcha!
@gnosisarts: Successful pitching depends on the relationship you have with the writer/blogger/journalist, in my opinion, not so much the medium. If I like you and want to hear from you, it doesn't matter if you email me, call me, phone me, IM me. I'm likely going to respond.
Gina: I agree. Dependability matters big time. I've had PR people go MIA or promise sources they can’t deliver.
@lanes0220: But how do you get that first corr. to start the relationship?
@gnosisarts: Lots of ways. For example, I met a writer on Twitter, developed a relationship, and finally pitched her on Twitter. The writer then asked me to send a more detailed pitch via email. But I've found journalists on Twitter who didn't know me and ignored me altogether.
@lanes0220: I am still struggling with the Twitter pitch; I just can't bring myself to do it ... yet.
@gnosisarts: I don't even think of it as a Twitter pitch anymore. You’re just building a relationship, and waiting for an opportunity. I've found just simply asking a journalist, “Do you accept pitches on Twitter?” can go a long way.
ProfNet: @GnosisArts @lanes0220 What it comes down to is this: It doesn't matter if it's via email or Twitter, you have to know the reporter.
@lanes0220: 100 percent agree; the medium doesn't matter, just the relationship.
@shelhorowitz: I often use Twitter to make contact when there's already a relationship. I could see where cold pitching could irritate.
Gina: Yes and no. I’ve sold many great assignments from a PR cold pitch...
@susyneliseduris: I agree. Asking the journalist how they would like to be connected is a key question. The thing about Twitter is this is a place where relationships are made. Do I pitch immediately? No! Like selling, if that's all you're interested in, it won't work. You must be interested in them, and interact.
Gina: Yes. Asking is good. Another good way to build a relationships is to listen to/read what a writer tells you.
@jenniferduchene: How detailed should the pitch be?
Gina: Enough details or links to get the big picture. If there's a study, more info, etc., that you have, mention it or include a link.
@susyneliseduris: Twitter is a great exercise on how to be brief. You only have 140 characters. You master that, you can give what the journalist needs.
Gina: Exactly. You sure can!
@susyneliseduris: That's what really has helped me stay fresh, relevant for my potential targets.
Gina: If a writer says, “I don't know when this will run,” that doesn’t mean follow up every week. Also, don't follow up on an email pitch via phone "just to see," unless the writer fancies phone follow-ups.
@jaykeith: Is there such a thing as a reporter who likes phone follow-ups? Hahaha.
Gina: No, I don't think so, lol!
@ashleycrd: If you’re using ProfNet to find experts, what tips can you give me to stand out?
Gina: Answer on-topic and be precise. Tell the writer what you can do to make their article the best, why you are the best.
ProfNet: Changing gears a bit: You also chair the #ASJA2011 conference for freelancers. Can you tell us more about that?
Gina: Happy to. It's the premiere conference for writers in all stages of their career. We also have lots of PR people who want to network. #ASJA2011 is open to public April 30 and May 1, and has sessions re: honing craft, marketing, tech/social media, etc. #ASJA2011 is also a great place to network/rub elbows with writers to pick their brains re: pitches they want, how to pitch, etc. And the conference has more than 125 magazine editors, literary agents and book publishers, so there are lots of people to network with. Over the years, I've made tons of great relationships and even done interviews with sources while at the conference. There are also fun cocktail parties, lunches and networking opportunities in the elevators. You really never know who you'll meet.
@Maxiboo15 Any tips for working with women’s book editors?
Gina: Yes, go to #ASJA2011 (www.asja.org/wc) and network with them, meet them, etc. It made a world of difference in my career!
ProfNet: What’s your advice to someone considering becoming a freelance writer?
Gina: Attend #ASJA2011. Networking really is everything these days. You’ve got to make contacts. Also, look for a mentor, someone who has “been there, done that” and can show you the ropes, bounce ideas off of, etc. Incidentally, #ASJA2011 does have mentoring, too. :-) But there's nothing like sage advice!
ProfNet: We hear a lot about "content mills." Should a new writer ever explore those as a way to get clips?
Gina: Well, I'd say no. Before writing for $5 an article, start a blog and build your platform that way. Don't sell yourself short like that. Every writer is a new writer at one time, but new doesn't have to mean cheap.
ProfNet: Well, our time is up. Those 90 minutes really flew by! Thank you so much for a GREAT #ConnectChat!
Gina: Thank YOU! And everyone who participated. It was a lot of fun!
@KidsAreHeroes: Thanks to @GinaRobertsGrey for her insight and giving attitude!
@KidsAreHeroes: @ProfNet Thanks for running the chat. Awesome.
Gina: You're very welcome. Thanks for the great interaction and questions.
@carolinama: Thank you for your time and advice. Loving the chat! Very helpful.
@ProfNet: @carolinama @KidsAreHeroes Thanks! Gina's pretty great, isn't she? Glad you found it helpful.
@carolinama: Yes! Gina is great! Thank you, Maria, for organizing the chat.
@CorpWriter4Hire: +1 RT @carolinama: @ProfNet @KidsAreHeroes Yes! Gina is great! Thank you, Maria, for organizing the chat. #connectchat
@ProfNet: My pleasure. :-)
@sazzollini: Thanks, Gina.
Gina: You're welcome. Thank you, too!
@KnHall: Great feedback from @GinaRobertsGrey with @ProfNet's #connectchat! Good stuff!