TechVersity Kick-off

Corporate Angels

Participate, Please

Volunteer, Please

Call for Papers

Corrections or additions?

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 Robin Levinson, a co-founder, who

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;

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.

Get clips. If you want to get work, says Rapport, you

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.

Develop a specialty. It can be two specialties, or more,

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.

Be ready to switch specialties. Not too long ago, many

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.

Share work. Instead of turning down jobs, pass them along

to another writer. Chances are, she will return the favor.

Making a living as a writer can be hard work, with multiple

deadlines one week, and no work the next. "There are highs and

lows," says Rapport, "but it’s a wonderful lifestyle. I wouldn’t

trade it."

Top Of Page
TechVersity Kick-off

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 Michael Recce;

"The Rise of Artificial Intelligence Systems" by Bartel

Van De Walle; "The Future of Telecommunications Is in the Air:

Wireless Networking" by Symeon Papavassiliou; "Intrusion

Detection for Wired and Wireless Networks" by Constantine Manikopoulos;

and "Research in Advanced Networking" by Nirwan Ansari.

Top Of Page
Corporate Angels

The Starbucks Foundation, the charitable arm of

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


The Institute for Advanced Study has received a grant of $1.2

million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation of New York City

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.

The Fred C. Rummel Foundation has made a $10,000 grant

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.

Sun National Bank was a sponsor of Lawrenceville Main

Street’s Golf Scramble, held on Friday, September 13, at the Lawrenceville

School golf course. Other corporate sponsors were Electronic Payment

Network and NJDOT Credit Union.

Smith’s Ace Hardware , a new store at Princeton Shopping

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 Properties Unlimited of South Brunswick has joined

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.

Top Of Page
Participate, Please

The executive board of the Greater New Jersey Postal Customer Council

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,

Top Of Page
Volunteer, Please

The Internal Revenue Service is seeking volunteers for

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

Top Of Page
Call for Papers

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

Windsor," says Gerhard Franz, technical program chair. It

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 (

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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