Jodie Lynn is an internationally syndicated parenting/family columnist of "Parent to Parent," parent educator, author and mom. She is also the founder and CEO of www.ParentToParent.com. If you are a writer with an idea for a column, check our her new e-book, "Syndication Secrets." Her latest paperback book is Mommy-CEO: 5 Golden Rules , 2001 revised edition, and covers family challenges from tots to teens. Please see www.ParentToParent.com for more details and check out the brand new logo on the latest "Mommy, CEO" merchandise: caps, sleeper boxer shorts, calendars, cups, etc.-- items for the real CEOs!
What was it about being a syndicated columnist that attracted you?
For me, it was getting my idea of parents helping other parents into a more wide spread arena. I am totally committed to helping parents raise more responsible children that will help build a better tomorrow for every single person. It is a trickle-down process that makes society healthier and stronger.
You have signed with syndication services and self-syndicated. First, let's talk about syndication agencies. What do they do for a columnist in terms of marketing and publicity?
They should provide ongoing, accurate marketing and publicity, always with updated information. Much of it gets lost in translation. For example, if you are participating in outside writing assignments, speaking engagements, or whatever, they need to know. If you have done your part to let them know about your most recent endeavors, it is their responsibility to relate this to the right people. The information will go through at least two more people and it should be implemented into an "updated" strategically placed marketing campaign.
Having said this, what they say is not always what they do. The marketing is discussed during the final stages of signing contracts. I learned the hard way that it is necessary that the marketing plans for a column be written into the contract and revised at least once every six months.
How do you earn money with a syndicate? Do they set a standard price for all papers and then split the money with you? Do they ever sell individual columns, or do papers have to sign on for the whole series?
Different syndicates do different things. Some sell the column at different prices for different "clients" (newspapers). Some sell individual columns and some put columns into a series. They evaluate what has worked best the previous years before making a decision on a column. The problem is that they don't know as much as they think they do and are not willing to take a chance on unusual ideas or topics. You have to sell them on the idea and encourage them to move forward, even if you work for free for a while.
You've written into your contracts that you get your rights back in seven days, so you can still sell your column yourself, turn columns into a book, etc. Is this typical? Do most columnists retain their copyrights after a limited period of time if working with a syndication agency?
The contract treats each freelancer as an independent contractor. The word "columnist" is not used in most contracts. As an independent contractor, most of the standard newspaper and syndication contracts offers the copyright back to the freelancer. I asked for a three-day turnaround and they negotiated seven days when the column became syndicated. If my lawyer had not told me to do this, I would not have known to. You can then sell the columns, add them to your website, if you have one, or do whatever you would like. They are yours and you own them.
You went out on your own and began self-syndicating recently. Most of the papers that were running your column stayed on, but what if you hadn't been with the syndicate in the first place? Do you think you still would have landed in all of those papers by doing the leg-work on your own?
There is no question in my mind that I could have accomplished this on my own because I was basically self-syndicated before I signed a contract for money. How? I run columns on my website, ParentToParent.com, which is the exact same name of the column, Parent to Parent. Papers picked up the column from the website and many times, I had to track down which papers were running the column and tell the syndicate to bill them. Some of them refused to pay and some of them paid. I did tons of extra marketing on my own, like faxing press releases and writing e-mails. I spent tons of time in the library looking up a multitude of information bits and followed up with phone calls. This has become a breeze since the inception of the Internet.
My editor told me he had never experienced anyone who was as hardworking and aggressive as I was and that this is what made the column popular. Parenting is my passion. I wanted to get out info that connected with parents. I listened to parents and allowed them to network with other parents. People are so sick of experts. I use parents, the real experts, in everyday family challenges. No mumbo jumbo junk that usually left regular people perplexed and feeling guilty.
Is it feasible to make a living by writing a syndicated column, or do most columnists have other jobs?
You cannot make a decent living at being a syndicated columnist. If a syndicate is paying you, they normally have to deduct for marketing and then take 40-50% of what is left. However, the status of being syndicated opens up a wide variety of other opportunities. For example, if you are willing to travel and do speaking engagements, you can make a boatload of money. I was always urged to do this but stood my ground because I was not willing to leave my kids. While I know plenty of people who do, and they have made thousands, I refused to do what I was telling others not to do in my books and columns.
You've made many media appearances on major networks and shows. How does this happen? Do they find you, or do you send media kits/press releases/show ideas to them?
I was able to secure the domain name ParentToParent.com-- it comes up often in Internet searches. Everything builds on everything else. I stay on top of things every single day. The one thing that I thought would be my downfall turned into an amazing creative blitz. It is my ParentToParent Adding Wisdom Award.
Let me back up for a second. I had tried to secure the ParentToParent.com domain for three years. Finally one day I was so fed up with things that I simply said, "Okay God, this is it. If the domain name is not available today, I have to give up." I took a deep breath and checked it, the same way I had done for the past three years, at least three times a week.
I was so shocked to see that it was available that I did not believe it. I called a couple of friends who were much more computer savvy and they checked it out for me and both confirmed it was available. The people who had had it before had never done anything with it. I was in total disbelief.
After I'd maintained the site for a while, I became very upset about the unsolicited pornographic e-mail my and many parents' children received almost daily. I decided to create an award for family friendly websites. There were not very many others doing this at the time (none that I could thing of off the top of my head). I spent hours and hours checking out websites and offering the award if the site made the cut. The criteria is currently listed on my site.
One day, three years ago, someone from Disney asked for the award. I thought it was a prank so I did not answer. A few months passed and they contacted me again. I sent it to them and six or so months later they put it up on their corporate page. After that, other major companies must have gotten wind of it, because now Nestle and PBS wanted it.
I encouraged sites that do make the cut to send out a press release about receiving the award, and many did. In fact, it was among the very first awards to be recognized globally as companies from Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, among other foreign countries, applied for it. Finally, I began to charge for it because it just took so much time. There has been a small fee for the award now for the past year.
Therefore, instead of the backlash I thought I would get for putting so much time and effort into this one-woman war on porn, it turned into a blessing and a great way to get the Parent to Parent name as well as my own out there. The award is placed onto a site and linked back to mine. This is added exposure. The media and PR firms searching for individuals to do speaking engagements or endorsements find the site and thusly find me.
If I did not write a column, some of these opportunities may not have happened. However, having a site by the same name is a great benefit especially if there are other passions you are working on, like the Adding Wisdom Award.
You suggest that writers should find out if their column topic appears in papers in the area of the ones they pitch to. But how do they do this if they're syndicating? If I want my column to appear in 100 papers all over the country, am I expected to read all of them and their competing papers to figure out if any of them already cover my topic?
If you want to achieve your goal, yes, you have to literally become a private investigator. But again, the Internet makes this much easier. Nevertheless, it takes a lot of time and you must persist.
Is there a "magic length" for columns?
My column is around 685 words. The syndicates as well as the newspaper editors do not want it to be over this and usually like it to be no more than 500 to 600 words.
When sending your pitch to a new paper, how do you send examples of your column? Do you photocopy them from papers where they've already appeared, or is it okay to send them as you've typed them on your computer?
You should send copies because you may or may not get them back. A variety of samples is great, so feel free to do both.
After writing your column, Parent to Parent, for nine years, do you ever run out of ideas or get bored with your topic?
Some of the topics are repeated, it's true, but what I have to keep in mind is that if someone is asking me to write on it, it is a new challenge that they are facing. It's like anything in life, some things are old hat to some of us because we have already been through it, but to the person who is just experiencing it for the first time, it's overwhelming.
Plus, there are so many new products out now to help with different family issues that it is actually fun getting them in the mail. I get tons of toys, games, potty products, books, DVDs, CDs, and everything in between. I have families all over the place that I ship these out to. I get so much stuff that my VP of Marketing/Family Testing Groups has started enlisting the help of her friends in helping to test these out.
That's another reason I think Disney was somewhat shocked at how I did not respond so soon to their request for the award; I have every single product tested. It doesn't matter if you are Time Warner or Simon & Schuster or Leap Frog, if the item(s) or book(s) fall apart, have poor messages, or do not do what they are supposed to do, we don't plug them. These big companies are shocked to see that we do this type of scrutinizing of their merchandise. Again, this has led to a new upcoming adventure, which I cannot go into at this time but will be glad to bring you up to date on once we get going on it.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I just want to say that being syndicated or even making it into self-syndication takes a lot of time, but it is worth it if you endure and truly believe in your idea. While syndication does not pay much, the opportunities it brings are endless and that's where you can make money. The best part is that you can have a positive impact on others and maybe even on humanity.
Jenna Glatzer is the author of "MAKE A REAL LIVING AS A FREELANCE WRITER" as well as many others. Visit her site: JennaGlatzer.com
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