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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the September 18, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Non-Fiction Writers Profit From Collaboration
<d>Robin Rapport earned degrees in both visual and
performing arts and cultural anthropology at Syracuse University,
and then went on to earn a graduate degree in media ecology from New
York University. "I wasn’t able to put in it words at the time,"
she says, "but what I was really interested in was ways of communicating."
After working as a director in New York, Rapport realized that writing
was the way in which she wanted to communicate — and that writing
and the performing arts share a common goal. "I look at who my
audience is," she says, "just the way an actor or director
would." Having built a career, and then a business, on her writing
skills, Rapport is set to take over the presidency of the Professional
Writers Alliance (PWA), a Mercer County-based organization of working
non-fiction writers. A founder of the five-year-old group, Rapport
takes over the reins from
has led the group from its inception.
The transition takes place on Thursday, September 26, at 7:30 p.m.
at the group’s monthly meeting at the West Windsor Library. Also on
the agenda is election of other officers, information on a new website
the group is having built, and discussion of the possibility of a
new meeting structure, with networking meetings alternating with business
meetings. Rapport says the group prefers to speak with prospective
members before they begin to attend meetings. Call Levinson at 609-584-9330
for more information.
There are lots of groups for fiction writers, and other groups for
those considering a career as a writer, says Rapport. Her group regularly
gets calls from people in both camps, but restricts membership to
professional, published non-fiction writers. She says a good number
of PWA’s 60 members, probably more than half, are employed full-time
as writers, and most of the rest freelance as everything from medical
writers to marketing writers to authors of non-fiction books.
A few, like Rapport, are small business owners. She
started Rapport Communications LLC (609-434-1141; www.rapportcommunications.com)
after a nine-year stint as a senior medical writer with Empire Blue
Cross/Blue Shield in New York City. Before joining Blue Cross, she
had written on the entertainment field and for area businesses, and
the health care giant considered this background a plus. "Health
care was changing," she recalls. "They were getting into managed
care, and they wanted someone with larger vision."
She credits Blue Cross with teaching her about medical and corporate
writing, but after nearly a decade with the company, she was ready
to ditch the commute. "It was a lifestyle decision," she says
of her resolve to go into business for herself. She asked Blue Cross
if she could continue part time or as a consultant. The response?
"`You either work for us full time, or you don’t work for us,’"
Rapport recounts. She had been doing a little freelancing, and had
a couple of clients, including Colgate, and so she decided to make
the leap. Soon thereafter, Blue Cross called her, and within three
months was her biggest client.
In the nine years since she has been in business for herself, Rapport
has specialized in corporate communications. She produces everything
from sales training materials to web content to meeting materials
for clients in a number of industries, including healthcare, document
management, telecom, human resources, and education.
She contracts work to other writers, and recently took on a business
partner — her husband, Greg.
"I was so busy. I needed a partner," she says. "We should
have done this years ago." Her husband specializes in business
and technology writing, and had worked for Scholastic and for a number
of publications, including the Village Voice and New York Magazine.
He handles a lot of the marketing for the company, and would have
joined it sooner, but, says Rapport, there was a concern over health
care and other benefits. Creating a limited liability corporation
eased that situation. Business insurance is less expensive than a
family policy, Rapport discovered.
The partnership is working out well, even though Rapport says "most
couples can’t work together because of power issues." She and
her husband each have their own specialties, which keeps power struggles
out of the equation. "Greg and I work together beautifully,"
she says. Business challenges are met head on — often at the breakfast
The situation not only benefits the business, says Rapport, but is
a boon to the family as well. They have a 10-year-old son, Gavin,
and a six-year-old daughter, Jackie. "If I’m on a crash project,
he can pick up some of the home slack," she says, "and vice
Many of those crash projects — along with steady, monthly assignments
— have come from PWA. "Three out of my top five clients I’ve
gotten from the group," says Rapport. PWA publishes a guide, Pens
for Hire, which lists members and their areas of expertise. She has
gotten some work through the guide, but most of the work she has found
through PWA has come directly from other members.
"I frequently get a call," Rapport says, "`I can’t do
X, can you?’" Members of the group, she says, hand off assignments
that are outside their area of expertise, that will take more time
than they have, or that pay less than the rates they want to accept.
One of her biggest recent projects, for example, came to her from
a PWA member who realized how time-intensive the work would be, and
didn’t want it to interfere with her summer plans.
Job leads like this are an important part of PWA. Other advantages
include getting out of the house to meet other writers. "When
Robin and I started the group," says Rapport, "we were both
working at home and we had no idea how many other writers were out
there." As the group evolved, monthly meetings, recently alternating
between the West Windsor and Lawrence branches of the Mercer County
Library, addressed topics including marketing, tax planning, Internet
research, using an agent, ethics, and setting up a home office.
At some point, Levinson introduced an "agony and ecstasy"
session at the end of each meeting. It gives members an opportunity
to share triumphs — book deals, new clients, and the like —
and problems, things like deadbeat clients, pathetic pay rates, and
shrinking markets. The feature has become so popular, says Rapport,
that it is one of the main reasons that the group will consider, at
its upcoming meeting, the possibility of holding every other meeting
at a restaurant or other social venue and giving members more time
to crow, kvetch, and call upon the collective wisdom of their peers.
In writing, as in nearly every other industry, these
are times that call for wisdom. Here is some Rapport has gleaned from
her own experience and from the PWA.
need clips. Writers know the term refers to samples of published work,
and anyone hoping to make a living writing needs to collect some.
New writers — as well as writers switching fields — may earn
very little for these clips, says Rapport, but, in her opinion, should
accept whatever they can get.
but it is a good idea to become known as the food writer, or the expert
at turning out annual reports for the biotech industry, or the pro
politicians turn to when they need to get out a message.
PWA members gave up magazine and newspaper writing to create copy
for websites. The work paid a good deal more in many cases, and there
was lots and lots of it. No more.
At about the same time, there was tremendous demand for tech writers.
Soon after both Internet and tech writing jobs became scarce —
and pay rates declined precipitously — the attacks of September
11 cut business travel. This meant, among other things, that hundreds
of trade fairs were canceled. Rapport and her husband had a number
of trade fairs on their calendar last fall. They were preparing materials
for exhibitors, and in some cases were planning to attend. All of
that work went away.
"We got more government work and more work with universities,"
says Rapport of her company’s Plan B. Every writer, whether solo or
the head of a small business, needs a back-up plan, and a back-up
for the back-up plan.
to another writer. Chances are, she will return the favor.
deadlines one week, and no work the next. "There are highs and
lows," says Rapport, "but it’s a wonderful lifestyle. I wouldn’t
In a new initiative, the New Jersey Institute of Technology
(NJIT) is holding the first in a series of TechVersity programs on
Friday, September 27, at 8:30 a.m. Hosted by the New Jersey Institute
of Technology, the event takes place at NJIT’s Guttenberg Information
Technology Center in Newark. Cost: $35. Call 856-787-9700.
NJIT is creating this forum to bring together professionals from technology-intensive
companies with research faculty and university administrators. A goal
is to introduce industry leaders to IT research initiatives and economic
development support services offered by NJIT.
For this first meeting, there will be a number of sessions, each led
by NJIT scientists. They include "Drop and Drag Programming for
Microarray Analysis in Computational Biology" by
"The Rise of Artificial Intelligence Systems" by
Van De Walle; "The Future of Telecommunications Is in the Air:
Wireless Networking" by
Detection for Wired and Wireless Networks" by
and "Research in Advanced Networking" by
Starbucks Coffee Company, has given the YWCA Princeton’s Family Literacy
Project a grant of $10,000. The project, a joint effort of the Child
Care Center at Valley Road and the English as a Second Language Program’s
Family Literacy program, was inaugurated in 1997. The overall project
goal is to promote school success for children of economically disadvantaged,
low-literate, non-English speaking parents through providing pre-kindergarten
education for children and language, literacy, and cultural skills
to their parents.
Andrea Taylor, Starbucks employee and long-time Valley Road volunteer,
was instrumental in helping secure this grant. She first involved
her Starbucks district in 2000 when she was able to obtain in-kind
donations for the Child Care Center’s fifth anniversary, and then
again, on a larger scale, for this spring’s Evening at McCarter Theater
million from the
in response to a proposal from Institute Director Phillip A. Griffiths
for support of three initiatives: a program in economics in the School
of Social Sciences; a program in art history in the School of Historical
Studies; and the scholarship of professors emeriti.
to the Rescue Mission of Trenton for the purchase of a new truck for
the mission’s industrial salvage operation. The truck will be used
to pick up items donated by the community at large and sold in the
mission’s retail store located at the corner of Carroll Street and
Perry Street in Trenton. The mission generates more than one-third
of its annual operating income through its industrial salvage operation.
Street’s Golf Scramble, held on Friday, September 13, at the Lawrenceville
School golf course. Other corporate sponsors were
Center, raffled prizes on Saturday, September 14, to benefit the Raptor
Trust Foundation. The foundation treats and releases injured or orphaned
birds and their offspring. The raffle had more than 200 prizes in
exchange for a $1 donation, which the hardware store, owned by Yardville
Supply Company, will match.
RE/MAX offices throughout the country in a fundraising program to
benefit the Children’s Miracle Network.
The real estate office is recycling empty inkjet, laser, fax, and
copier cartridges, earning up to $8 per cartridge, and donating the
proceeds to the Children’s Miracle Network, an international non-profit
dedicated to raising funds and awareness for 170 children’s health
organizations. Each year these health organizations treat 14 million
children with diseases, injuries, and birth defects of every kind.
RE/MAX South Brunswick has sent its first contribution, $314, to the
Children’s Miracle Network. Since February, 1992, RE/MAX has raised
more than $32 million for the charity.
Information on donating cartridges through the South Brunswick RE/MAX
office is available at 732-297-1100.
The executive board of the
I invites area companies to join the organization. Benefits include
networking with prospective business partners, establishing relationships
with senior level USPS managers for direct problem resolution, invitations
to educational seminars, and site tours at USPS and industry facilities.
The cost of membership is $100 a year per person, or $275 for a group
of up to three people from the same company. An application form is
available from Bob Spadaro, director of membership, at 732-417-2688,
or at the council’s website, www.mailingstuff.com/GNJPCC.
its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly
programs throughout New Jersey.
During the filing season, volunteers in community locations throughout
the state help fill out tax returns for older taxpayers, people with
disabilities, non-English speaking, and indigent people. Some of the
volunteer groups also offer free electronic tax filing. The IRS provides
instruction to volunteers, generally during the month of January.
An accounting background is helpful, but not necessary. In the past,
volunteers have been members of professional organizations, college
students, law and accounting students, homemakers, and members of
volunteer or community organizations.
In addition to providing direct assistance to taxpayers, volunteers
are needed to organize sites, instruct new volunteers, and review
returns. Call Stephen Savage at 973-645-3853 or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
September 30 is the deadline for paper proposals for
the Sarnoff Symposium to be held March 11 and 12 by the Institute
of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ (IEEE), which has more than
3,000 area members.
"This meeting has a long tradition as a gathering place for local
researchers, engineers, marketing and sales executives starting many
years ago as a day-long seminar at the Sarnoff Corporation in West
has since outgrown this facility and moved to the College of New Jersey
in Ewing. Vendors will display the latest wireless gadgets and communication
technology products (www.sarnoffsymposium.org).
The conference is now soliciting papers not just from local companies
but from around the world. More than 30 technical presentations and
tutorials will cover everything from satellite communications to the
latest developments in the wireless and mobile communication field.
Subjects could include broadband wireless systems, ultrawideband systems,
network security, Voice over IP, military communications, signal processing
for communications, 3G mobile systems and wireless LANs, microwave
device technology, smart antennas and phased arrays, modeling and
simulation, microwave photonics, optical networking, or software radio.
One page abstracts may be submitted in .doc or .pdf formats to E-mail:
The telecom industry is in a severe slump and New Jersey has been
hit particularly hard, but the state is still a hotbed of R&D, says
Franz. "We have already had inquiries from Canada, Europe, and
the Far East. People want to come to New Jersey because this is where
the center of gravity for the industry and for the research community
is. This is the place to be if you are working in telecom."
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