writing for a living

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Why Q&A Style Interviews are Not True Journalism

Published February 23, 2021 by Maryanne
Photo by Marcel Straub

One of the benefits of being a self-employed writer is you get to pick and choose who you want to write for.

As a professional writer, mainly trained in news journalism, I include the subject’s voice in the content of the story. For example, see my recent articles here: https://maryannechristiano.contently.com/

That’s the preferred way to write for news publications. Oftentimes magazines opt for the Q&A type of interview. I did it myself a few times via blogging, or by special request of an editor or publisher. In this feature blog I wrote a few years ago when I conducted an interview with Coyote Shivers, it was done via email due to time constraints, with him being on the west coast, and me being on the east: https://maryannemistretta.wordpress.com/2015/09/01/dont-believe-a-word-interview-with-coyote-shivers/

That somehow worked, because you can’t go wrong with Coyote Shivers. But often it doesn’t. And here’s why….

When I used to copy edit for The Aquarian Arts Weekly, I wasn’t a fan of reading the Q&A style articles. It cheapens the subject the journalist is writing about and comes across as cold and not as informative. It’s an easy way to get “holes” (missing information) that leaves the reader questioning. This is why I don’t like when subjects say “Email me the questions” unless you’re interviewing a professional who is using medical terms and formulas that only other medical professionals will understand — for example, a trade publication. To chop up an article to a Q&A format so readers can look at it on their phones is not true journalism. I won’t work for any publisher who promotes tainting the art of true journalism.

When “journalists” resort to Q&A “journalism” they think it is cute to insert “um” or “uh” into the article if that is what the subject said. It’s not cute. It’s no fair. Your job, as a journalist, is to bring forth the subject in the best light possible. It’s also your job, as a journalist to ask the subject “Is this ‘on the record’ if they get comfortable with you and share very personal information. Journalism is a responsibility to your subject and your readers. Do it right. Just say “no” to the Q&A format.

I recently wrote a few articles for a publisher. It wasn’t until AFTER I interviewed the subjects and submitted my work that he bitched that it wasn’t in Q&A format. Wow, thanks for telling me that I worked too hard after the fact and that I could have slacked off a bit and you’d be happier with my work. (Note my sarcasm). I told him to “call me.”

When I got him on the phone, I was told that his webmaster said that Q&A format is better for SEO search engines and that people can read articles on their PHONE better with Q&A format. That’s a new one on me. Now journalists have to write in that tacky Q&A format to cater to those who only read on their phones?!

Uh, no. Writing is my art. Tell Freddie Mercury to cut “Bohemian Rhapsody” down to cater to the dullards with weak ears and a short listening span. DUH.

After that conversation, I agree to cut ties with this particular publisher. Yes, I am self-employed, but that doesn’t mean I am desperate. Telling me to write in Q&A style to suit those who read on their phones would be like telling Joe Dispenza to write for the National Enquirer. It would be going backwards. Way backwards.

I worked so hard to make a career in writing. I write because it’s in my heart and soul. I write because it’s in my blood. If I’m going to write articles in Q&A style for a living, I might as well go all out and start getting paid to write product descriptions for Walmart. How heartbreaking would that be?

They say when you do something you love, you never work a day in your life. I stand by that wholeheartedly. But “never working a day in your life” doesn’t mean doing sloppy, easy work that you are not proud of. I could never be proud writing article after article Q&A style. It would be like cutting my arm off. Just thinking about it brings a tear to my eye. That’s why I’m a writer. I am sensitive and protective of my muse. And I always will be. When publishers hire me, they will get my best. If they want me to perform my worst in order to get their SEO searches up, I am out the door.

Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta can be reached at: maryannechristiano@gmail.com.

She is available for blogging, ghost writing, writing. She is also available for book signings and motivational speaking engagements (via ZOOM during covid). She is now coaching aspiring writers via ZOOM.

Maryanne is the author of the following books:

“Be (Extra)Ordinary: 10 Ways to Become Your Own Hero” is available on Amazon. To get your paperback or Kindle version, visit:Be (Extra)Ordinary

“I Don’t Want to Be Like You” is available on Amazon. To get your paperback, Kindle or audio copy, go here: I Don’t Want To Be Like You

Her fiction book “Love Cats” second printing is now available, under the pen name Krystianna Mercury, from Pink Flamingo. You can purchase it here: Love Cats

Author Versus Journalist

Published December 27, 2017 by Maryanne

sam_3971 - book signing2014, at my very first book signing

If you are reading this, chances are you do not know me as a writer. I’m not a famous writer and probably will never be. Nor will I ever win a Pulitzer Prize. I know my limitations. But I can say, for most of my adult life, writing has been my “day job” and I make a comfortable living as a writer and editor. Yeah, I beat the odds. I get to work in my pajamas.

As I wrote in my first book, “On the Guest List: Adventures of a Music Journalist” it took a long time to earn my bragging rights. Coming from a single parent family, I never had the opportunity to go to college. But I know many people with degrees that don’t follow their dreams as I did! I always wrote here and there — and finally got published. It was sweet extra income while I worked in offices for publishing companies or music businesses. I never took a job I didn’t have extreme passion for.

When I first started writing full time as a journalist, it was because I made my way into the door. I was first hired as a typist at a NYC publication. While there, I told a few editors that I like to write. Then bam! Eventually I was writing about everything — food, theatre, advertorials, features, business, and even sports. I was officially a journalist — in New York City!

I’ll never forget how long it would take me when I first began writing articles. I’d be up until 4 a.m. Then, the more I learned, the faster I got. I take pride in the fact that I could write a 500+ word article, that needs minimal or no editing, in less that an hour.

Back then, seeing an article I wrote hanging up in a restaurant in Chelsea, NYC, was a thrill. Having actresses and rock stars write me letters thanking me for my articles was euphoric. I ate at restaurants for free; got guest-listed more times than I can remember; and received hundreds of gifts and freebies just for acknowledging someone in an article. And this went on for years — now decades.

Writing an article is instant satisfaction. You write. You get published. You get praise. Writing an article is fresh and current. But when you’ve been a journalist for as long as I have, it’s natural to go the next step. No, not author — editor.

As an editor, I started my own home based business and helped dozens of people pen their memoirs and fiction books prior to publication. During this period it dawned on me that I should write a book. I gathered my thoughts together and in three years wrote three books — two self-published and the final was picked up by a traditional publisher.

What came with published books was equally as satisfying as journalism. Anyone who has had a successful book signing knows what it’s like to feel like a star. Anyone who has received a substantial royalty check has that feeling of arrival. Anyone who has had someone they admired endorse their books knows what it’s like to have butterflies in their stomach. And it’s the most surreal thing in the world to wake up in the morning and say to yourself, “I’m an author” and you know your life will never be the same from that moment onward.

But the thing is, writing a book is harder than writing an article. That’s why I didn’t want to write a book to begin with. Work shouldn’t feel like work. There’s a saying, “If you do what you love, you never worked a day in your life.” Writing articles isn’t work for me. It’s a need; a desire. I must write articles, like I must have food and sex and music and love and all the good things life has to offer. Writing a book is like having a slice of pizza. I enjoy it, but it’s not necessary to my being. I’d much rather edit someone else’s book.

Currently I am in the process of writing two more books and will use any excuse not to work on them. Last they’ve been touched was over the summer. And the only time I feel a bit of guilt is when a fan of my books approaches me at a signing and asks when my next book is coming out. It breaks my heart to tell someone, “Probably 2019,” but that is the truth. If that! It could be 2020. Or never.

While I’m writing a book, and really getting into it, I can’t stop talking about it. When you’re in a groove, you’re in a groove. I’ve completed books quickly during afternoons of drinking a few glasses of organic wine. Then comes the hard part. Shopping it around to publishers. Or negotiating with self-publishing companies who prefer you use their packages rather than hire your own copy editors and book designers.

Honestly, the best part is the rejection letters. They do not accept your material, but are encouraging that they are sure you will find the publisher who is a perfect fit.

Then once you find that publisher, who is supposed to be a perfect fit, it’s anything but. Whether you self-publish or are published traditionally, beware of several months of headaches before, during and after the process. Be prepared to be persecuted by clueless betas, to re-do work that editors have fucked up, all the cover “do overs,” marketers who fall short, and those dreaded bad reviews.

Let me pause here for a second to say that a bad review for a journalist is a good thing. It means people are reading your work, which is good for advertising. It’s also humorous when you can share with your co-writers a letter to the editor bitching about you. My biggest laugh was when I wrote an article about tattoo parlors and an irritated reader pondered if I had a tattoo myself. (I have three). Or the times when I wrote about a band and you’d get a member who felt he didn’t get as much coverage as the others and go on an egomaniac rant via email — or even a phone call. (This has happened more than once).

As an author, it’s more personal. It’s your work, not the property of a magazine or a newspaper. You are no longer the reporter. It’s your baby. Like poetry. While a bad review is expected, doesn’t make it easy on you. You have to be able to take it.

I once gave a refund to a client who wanted me to help her write a book. She said, “I don’t want people to judge me.”

I told her, “Then you’re not ready to write a book. Because people will judge you.”

Not only will they judge you on the content of your work — but on the fact that you are an author. Other authors are competitive. Non authors will say things to downplay you. I’ve had an ignorant person ask me, “Do you actually make money off of those books?”

Uh, yes, I do. Especially at book signings or literary clubs. I make a killing.

I also make a killing by touching people’s lives with my books. One of the best compliments I ever received was from a woman who read “On the Guest List.” She liked that when I spoke about being part of the stage show for The Nuns that I had to work and diet to get my body in shape. She wrote me, “You didn’t make it sound like it was easy because it isn’t.”

Sometimes I’ll Google myself and see a glowing review for one of my books and it brings a smile to my face. I just want to hug the stranger who got me!

However, with all the pluses and satisfaction a book brings to my life, I’ll forever be a journalist in my heart. And here’s why:

  • I get to meet more people, especially children. (Nothing is cuter than a little kid jumping up and down screaming, “I’m going to be in the newspaper!” after you interview him/her.
  • The quickness of the truth. It takes about six months to write a book. You are focused on researching, reading it over and over to make sure you’re accurate. In writing an article, the truth is right there for you. You simply write the facts — who, what, where, why, and how.
  • The instant glory. You write, you get published, people are reading!
  • Getting out of the house. While it’s everyone’s dream to work at home in their pajamas — and writing a book will give you that luxury — life is short and it feels good to get out and meet people. As I wrote earlier, there’s free concerts and free meals; but there’s also tree lightings, winter walks, fashion shows … around every corner there is something to write about. And that’s a beautiful thing!
  • Sometimes people do your work for you. No, that doesn’t mean someone is ghost writing my stuff. It means if you get a kick ass interview with someone, the story practically writes itself.

But then again, a book is forever; and years down the road I’ll still be collecting royalty checks and doing book signings for a book that was written years ago. And someone on Amazon or Ebay will be selling my book for much more. Well, that’s book business.

Moonstone Dreams by S. C. Miotto

Published July 18, 2013 by Maryanne

Moonstone DreamsCover image by Cerica Photography

Back in March, I began an amazing journey with S. C. Miotto.

I was hired to edit and help ghost write her book, “Moonstone Dreams,” the fictitious adventures of Victoria Carlisle, a 32-year-old woman who seems to have it all, a rich husband, a mansion, a family and drop dead gorgeous good looks. But no one knows the heartbreak she is going through with her distant, abusive husband, Frank.

Enter Collin. A sexy younger stud who adores her. Will Victoria leave her wealthy life behind for someone who seems like the guy of her dreams? And what happens when yet another potential suitor appears from practically out of nowhere? Victoria has options. Which one will she choose? And at what price? With so many twists and turns, “Moonstone” leaves the reader begging for more, more more!

A perfect summer read … or perhaps a read for life!

Within a few months, S.C. (Stefanie) worked her butt off and sent me chapters as she went along. Forty chapters and almost 400 pages later, her book was published and is now moving up in sales on the Amazon charts!

Yesterday, for the first time ever, I got to meet Stefanie in person and have lunch together. We choose Greek Delights in Montclair.

Stefanie is wonderful! Classy, young, driven and talented. And definitely an inspiration.

It was so cool chatting about work and personal things. She autographed my copy and a copy I purchased for my mother.

After we walked each other to our cars, I went on with my day.

When I got home, I flipped through the book (still in shock over how much work we did together, and how gorgeous the book looks!) and noticed she thanked me in her acknowledgements.

Maryanne Mistretta — I saved the best for last! I am truly blessed to have found you and I can’t wait for our future ventures. You’re the only person who I can say has a connection to these characters in ways that nobody else besides me does. You envision everything the way I mean for it to be and help me bring it to life. You’re inspirational and a pleasure to work with. You add sprinkles to the ice cream and I don’t care if that’s corny! Thank you times a million!

Of all the people I’ve worked with in my solo career since I started my writing/book editing/marketing business Pear Tree Enterprises, five years ago, this was the most touching dedication I’ve ever had.

As of now, Stefanie is writing her sequel to “Moonstone Dreams” and I’ve edited a little bit of it.

For more info on S.C. Miotto and her work, visit: https://www.facebook.com/scmiotto

To purchase Moonstone Dreams on Amazon, go here: http://www.amazon.com/Moonstone-Dreams-S-C-Miotto/dp/0615814123

Writer + Musician = Love! Love! LOVE!

Published June 13, 2013 by Maryanne

Mayra & Coyote 3

Mayra Dias Gomes (writer) & Coyote Shivers (musician)

Last week I was reading my old diaries and recalled my DJ sets at Pyramid Club. I always began the nights spinning the coolest song ever, “Plus One” by Coyote Shivers. Since I have two of his CDs already, I was searching online for more Coyote Shivers music and came across his Twitter and Instagram social media pages and saw that he married a beautiful girl — a writer named Mayra Dias Gomes.

It’s fantastic to read about love and happy endings especially when I have a little something in common … like Mayra, I’m also a writer who married a musician. And like Coyote and Mayra, my husband and I are very much in love, even after seven years (and hopefully none of you are sick of hearing about it, ha-ha). In fact the loving chemistry expressed between those two on Instagram reminds me a lot of my own happy marriage which is why I enjoy tuning in to their world. Happy people just LOVE to see other other people in love. It’s no wonder that once a couple is happily hooked up, right away we start to think about which one of our single friends can we fix up with another single friend. When it comes to love, we want more, we want more! Love is on the brain 24/7.

Then I got to thinking, what is it about a musician/writer marriage combo that makes the relationship work so gorgeously?

First of all, both careers are very free-spirited and creative, so there is never a dull moment. My husband’s brilliance never ceases to amaze me with the creative ways he surprises me and his out of the box thinking.

Both careers do not have a set pattern, neither are a typical 9 to 5 (although I aim for that so we can have our nights free together, except when he’s in the studio or having a band meeting), so there can be times where a musician/writer couple can be like two ships passing in the night, therefore time is always so very precious. Like the other night when I came home very late and then had to make a deadline. Dennis sat at my side to keep me company as I typed away.

Both careers have you in contact with zillions of different people. So both writers and musicians understand the important of trust in a relationship, which to me is a very important element. Nothing is more rewarding than knowing that your man trusts you with all his heart and soul. The word TRUST sends chills up my spine and puts tears in my eyes. I know I am my husband’s angel and he counts on the fact that I would never, ever hurt him, nor would he hurt me. There is a lifetime comfort in knowing that.

The marriage between a musician and writer can mean great opportunities for collaboration. I have no musical talent, but it was a thrill writing lyrics for a children’s Christmas song. Not only did Dennis put music to my lyrics, we had it recorded on a Christmas CD and then were interviewed on a college radio station that played the song. This was just one example of quite a few cool things we’ve done in the studio together over the years. Just one of many dreams come true since I met Dennis.

Both careers have great perks. Between my husband’s connections and my connections, we’re always going to some event or other —  free! Since we’re not rich and famous, it definitely helps financially that entertainment doesn’t cost us a dime. Our careers definitely fill up our social calendar. And while my hunny adores me even if I’m just sitting home watching TV in pajamas with my hair up in a bun and no make-up, it’s so great to hear him say how pretty I look when I’m dressed for a night on the town and how lucky he says he is. (But, really, I’m the lucky one!)

I also think that a musician who is attracted to a writer (and vice versa) is a person who embraces change, someone who doesn’t stay stagnant in life. There are always new things to learn and it keeps you young and vibrant. And both careers are ones you can grow old with. I can’t imagine a life without writing. If I was to retire, I’d rather be dead. And if there ever was a day my husband wasn’t picking up one of his 20 guitars, I’d know something was seriously wrong with him. I would definitely check his pulse to see if he was still alive. One thing for sure is, we’ll never be the couple that just wants to stay in the house and rot. We’re always up for an adventure, for meeting new people, for a road trip, for growing and growing old together. We will eventually be that old couple walking on the beach still holding hands.

And before I end this post, I want to add a little side note in regard to the music of Coyote Shivers (cool punk with incredibly funny and clever lyrics). One night when Dennis and I first started dating, I threw on the CD “Coyote Shivers Gives It To Ya Twice.” We were in my old apartment, drinking a bottle of unfiltered pearl sake, making out and laughing like hell because Coyote’s lyrics were so hilarious. Coyote’s funny songs were the back drop to us falling in love — because laughter/humor is KEY to a great relationship. Seven years later, we’re still laughing — at anything and everything. (Even the dumbest stuff like me making up silly songs about women with chipped toe nail polish, sung with a hillbilly accent).

I’ve yet to read Mayra’s books/articles, but I saw some of her interviews on You Tube and I favor the interview with Michael Monroe since I’m a big Hanoi Rocks fan. Mayra seems so down to earth, fun and a true music fan. (Plus she’s also a gorgeous print model!)

I tried Googling “writers who married musicians” and “musicians who married writers” and couldn’t come up anything more to add to all this. So, tell me, are there more happily married writers and musicians out there? Or are there other careers that seem to be a perfect match for couples? I know the musician/photographer coupling works beautifully too, as Paul and Linda McCartney were my favorite rock ‘n’ roll couple ever — just like our friends Tommy (musician) & Darlene (photographer) who have been together over 20 years and are absolutely adorable together.

Happy couples, please come forward, and tell what your careers are.

If we get enough people to participate in this research, we can ditch the whole zodiac compatibility thing and start a new trend about perfect career compatibility love matches. Linda Goodman, look out!

Eternal love and happiness!

Maryanne and Dennis by JeffMaryanne (writer) and Dennis (musician) – 2010

 

Cult Blogger

Published February 24, 2013 by Maryanne

DJMareIdol3

My blog … it’s not for everyone

Why do I blog?

I started this blog a year ago as a creative outlet to write about things I like, mostly positive and inspirational because that’s how I am. But I also like to share about my life because writing for an audience, I write better than what I write in my private diaries. So, this blog is a wonderful document of my life.

Also, being a professional writer since 1995, even though I choose the topics I get paid for writing and I just ADORE writing as a profession, I do have a quote about journalism:

“It’s journalism, not creative writing. You’re writing a format. It’s like being in a cover band.”

— Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta

So I blog!

Now, not wanting to go by formats, I mentioned before that I’m not a “tit-for-tat” blogger. I don’t spend time “liking” every blogger that likes me. I find it to be phoney and that’s not my personality.

I am not in this as a popularity contest, or to get a million followers.

I am in this to, as I said earlier, document my life and any friends I make in the meantime is a beautiful bonus.

That said, I have to point out that I stop following blogs if I’m not connecting with a fellow blogger.

For instance, if I make a sincere comment to a fellow blogger and they don’t respond; if I email a fellow blogger and they can’t be bothered answering; if I’m always reading someone’s blog and I never hear from them or if they are just pressing “like” all the time in my blog without commenting.

There are so many great blogs out there and so many great people, I like to spend my time with the BEST. Those with the best personalities, those with the best insights and those that make me laugh and make me think of them during the day.

No, I’m not making blogging like “American Idol” by making “cuts” (as someone once said to me when I made Face Book cuts years ago). It’s just that time is precious and limited. So, let’s be honest. I don’t have time to read hundreds of blogs every day and I’m not going to be phoney and press “like, like, like” if I just skimmed through something and didn’t look at it.

That said, I highly doubt I’ll follow a blog that has several hundred followers already, especially when blogs with fewer readerships are even better!

So many times, early on, I’d read “Freshly Pressed” and be like, “What did I read that for? Well, that was a boring waste of time.” When someone that has maybe 50 followers I’m like, “WOW, this person should be known worldwide — this is fantastic!”

I think my blog is pretty versatile if I do say so myself. It offers music, spirituality, fun, animals and health. But if my blog is kept at cult status because I’m not playing  the game of re-blogging others, liking everything, interviewing other bloggers and giving out awards — SO BE IT!

What the hell — my art was once called “punk art,” so keeping it real, I don’t mind being a cult blogger. In fact, I’m quite enjoying my cult status.