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checklist-clipart-response-clipart-clipart-pencil-checklistSo in the past two weeks, I’ve talked about how going the extra mile and developing a relationship with the editor. For this final piece, I’m going to look at how becoming an expert in your field will help you get more assignment.

I’m not talking about getting a degree in every subject you want to write about. You can become an expert by writing extensively about the subject.

This is something that comes with time. As you consistently work with a magazine, your work may tend to fall into a niche. Usually, my niche is history, but I’ve written two stories with Hagerstown Magazine that accidentally turned out to be health stories. I’ve also written health stories from time to time with other magazines. I now have a niche in health writing.

As you start to develop a niche, the editor will begin to recognize you as such. You will become the magazine’s go-to person for that topic. It doesn’t mean you can’t pitch the magazine other stories, it’s just what you’ll become known for. When I first contacted the editor of Allegany Magazine about doing stories for him, he was very excited because he was a fan of my column, so he knew my work and was anxious for me to do local history articles for the magazine.

That’s not to say I only do history articles for the magazines. I’m working on a feature piece now about a local bookseller’s experience running a bookstore in Ireland.

Becoming the go-to person: The benefit of becoming an expert is that when the editor is looking to assign a story in your niche, you’ll be the first person to come to mind. The bad news is that you won’t be the first person to come to mind if it’s not your niche.

Extra benefits of being an expert: Becoming the go-to person for a topic leads to more than just editors contacting you with assignments about your topic. I know a man in Cumberland who collected historic postcards and pictures for years about Western Maryland. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, he published them in numerous books. He is considered the go-to man for local history in Cumberland and he is the first person everyone thinks about when they need a photo, a judge for a contest, a speaker, etc.

Continually improve your writing skills: Another aspect of becoming an expert includes becoming an expert writer. I’ve been writing professionally since 1988 and I still look for ways to improve and expand my skills. Never stop learning.

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adult-2242164_640Last week, I wrote about how to get more freelance assignments by going the extra mile. This week, I want to talk about how to get more assignments by developing a relationship with the editor.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about becoming buddies so that the editor does his or her friend a favor and gives you work. I’m talking about developing a professional relationship where you work well together to create an excellent finished product.

When you first start working with an editor, you are strangers. You may not have met or even spoken to one another. However, as the saying goes, “The work speaks for itself.” As you submit assignments, the editor begins to trust your ability to meet deadlines and deliver quality work.

Don’t underestimate the value of that trust. Chances are editors work with dozens of different writers and not all of them are professional or dependable. The fact that you are puts you a few steps ahead of them.

What’s the value of this to you? It means your stories will get accepted easier. A borderline idea might be rejected if the editor doesn’t know the writer, but if the editor knows you, he or she may be more willing to take a chance. I’ve had stories assigned to me after just writing a sentence or two to the editor about an idea.

Another nice thing is that once editors know what you can do and how well you do it, they may contact you to write stories. I love when this happens because it means that’s less work I have to do coming up with a story and querying different markets. I just had this happen recently when I ran into an editor I know and she asked me if I was interested in taking on an assignment that she had.

Meeting deadlines

I mention meeting deadlines a lot as a talk about freelance writing. That’s because I have been an editor who has had to wait and see if a new writer is going to deliver a story on time and in what shape it will be.

You may think being a little late is fine because the magazine the article is supposed to appear in is not due out for a couple months, but you have to understand that your deadline is just an early one in a series of deadlines that will allow the magazine to come out on time. There is some wiggle room, but not as much as you might think. Besides, it’s not your call whether it should be given to you or not.

That being said, sometimes you will run into problems. The story doesn’t work out the way you expect, interviewees don’t get back to you, or you might get sick or have an accident. Things happen. If you do run into a problem that will keep you from hitting your deadline, contact your editor as soon as possible and see what can be done.

Editors won’t hold it against you if you have a legitimate excuse. Don’t dawdle and waste your time with the story, though. Most editors will give you at least a month to complete your article. That sounds like a lot of time. You’d be surprised at how quickly it can disappear when you’ve got other things that need to be done.

I’ve gotten into the habit of creating my own mini-deadlines. For instance, when I had four articles due one month, instead of doing each in bits and pieces, I set it up so I could focus and finish one each week.

You might also want to prioritize. If focus most of my efforts on completing the story that is due the soonest while doing a little bit on any other articles that are coming due in the next month. This might be researching, interviewing, or transcribing notes. I do these things bit by bit so that when each story gets the focus of my attention, I’m ready to write.

Next week, I’ll finish up by talking about becoming an expert.

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magazine-806073_640I’ve been doing freelance writing in one form or another for 25 years now. When I started out, I was getting only a few assignments to write articles. Nowadays, I have plenty of work, and the best part is that many times the editor offers me the assignment without me having to send a query letter.

So I thought I would share some tips with you to improve your odds at getting the assignment. Many of these are quite simple, even logical, but I have run into writers over the years who have neglected them and then wonder why their query letters are rejected.

Going the Extra Mile

  1. Reply quickly to any inquiries made by editors. You would like them to do it for you, do it for them. This includes being quick about proofing. The quicker you are in responding, the more time they have to do their thing. I have had more than one editor thank me for doing a quick turnaround on a project.
  2. Be willing to be edited. Your words aren’t gospel. Unless an edit is incorrect, be willing to consider and accept the changes. You are being paid for the work.
  3. Add extra information when appropriate. For example, provide captions for any pictures you submit.
  4. If you are submitting pictures with your article, submit more than needed so the editor had plenty to choose from.
  5. Keep to the assigned word length. I’m not saying that you have to hit the number spot on, but you should stay within 10 percent of the assigned length. If you fall too far short, your story may no longer meet its purpose. For instance, your short feature story, might only be the length of a department piece. If you go too far over the limit, you are creating extra work for the editor who will have to edit the piece down to the proper length.
  6. Produce quality work. Always turn in the best story you can write. Poor work won’t win you more assignments.

By going the extra mile, you make an editor’s job easier. If you’re doing that, when an editor is considering who to assign stories to, you will be topmost in his or her mind as a writer who not only provides good work but also relieves some of the stress of their job.

Next week, I’ll provide some tips for developing a long-term relationship with an editor.

Here are some other posts that you might enjoy:

 

 

 

I like writing for regional magazines. Some writers are all about getting into the big-name magazines, and that’s fine. I like writing for them occasionally, too. However, the bread-and-butter side of non-book income is writing for magazines so I need to keep the assignments and checks coming.

2fd069a12889a0c3761c5db01730cb0d6858b490Here’s why I like to write for regional magazines:

  • Larger market: If I wanted to write a story for a national history magazine, I have three or four possible markets where I could pitch the article. However, if I look at the local angles of the story, I could at least double that number of market, maybe even triple it. I live in Gettysburg, and there are six magazines that I can think of that directly cover the town.
  • Easy to resell articles: I find that it is easy to resell article ideas between regional magazines. The article needs to be refocused a bit to fit the market of the magazine, but probably half of the article can stay the same between the markets. For instance, I wrote an article about the Tuskegee Airmen who were from Maryland for a Maryland magazine. I then repurposed it for both West Virginia and Pennsylvania magazines focusing on the airmen from those state. While the names were different and I had to interview different people, the basic information about the history of the airmen was the same.pa-heritage-magazine-spring-2016_large
  • Multiple chances to impress: This ties into there being a larger market of regional magazines. Each of those magazines has a different editor, so you have multiple chances to build professional relationships that can serve you well. Once I have worked with editors for a few stories, they quickly realize I like history so when history ideas up in editorial meetings, they contact me to write the story. Also, if the editor moves on to a new job, they know they can contact me for assignments.178e9ea3549cac3b6d3a2d20aee0ad2c
  • Good payment: Certainly national magazines pay more, probably around $1 a word, but regional magazines easily pay 25 cents to 75 cents a word. If you repurpose your article idea for four magazines, you’ll probably make more for the overall idea by selling it to regional magazines.
  • Unique stories: Because national magazines have a national market, I find that the stories they tend to tell are more generalized. I find that I have plenty of good articles ideas that national magazines wouldn’t be interested in because they are too local. For instance, I recently wrote an article about the year-long hunt for a supposedly escaped gorilla. It was a fun story that local people enjoyed reading about, but I doubt that a national magazine would have cared for it.
  • Less competition: Regional magazines have fewer writers competing for the editorial space. That means you have a better chance of being accepted. While national magazines may pay more, if you don’t get the assignment, you won’t be making anything. Not only do I have a better chance of getting the assignment at an individual magazine, but if I’m pitching an idea to multiple magazines, such as the Tuskegee Airmen story, I have a better chance of getting the story accepted somewhere. The odds are against me getting the $1 per word story, but I could easily get 50 cents per word.

1192240118All that being said, national magazines still offer advantages.

  • More-impressive clippings: When querying magazines for assignment, having national credits is more impressive to editors. That would make them more likely to see my query favorably. I do have some national credits, and I name them in my queries as well as pertinent regional credits.
  • Better pay: As I already said, if you can get a national assignment, it will more than likely pay better than regional publication. This is particularly true if you can get an assignment from one of the big-name publications that might pay you even more than $1 per word.
  • Author reputation: It doesn’t happen as much now as it used to, but some authors can build a following of readers who are anxious to read their articles.

From my perspective as a full-time freelance writer who needs to earn a living, these are my reasons for favoring regional publications. You may have a different perspective. If it works for you and gets you published, keep it up. If you find it failing you more often than not, try your luck with regional publications. There are some great ones out there. I should know. I write for them.fm2017_smcover-1

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checklist-clipart-response-clipart-clipart-pencil-checklistWhen I mention freelance writing, what type of writing jumps to mind? Here’s the types of freelancing I’ve done: newsletters, columns, newspaper articles, magazine articles, short stories, novels, ads, brochures, direct mail, radio scripts, catalogs and press releases. They’re all types of freelance writing.

Freelance writing is what someone is willing to pay you involving writing. I even throw in speaking, magazine editing and teaching as part of my work.

The way I look at it, you can divide your freelance writing into three areas based on who will be reading.

  • Public Writing – This is writing for the general public. It includes stories, novels, a lot of what writing, magazines, etc. It tends not to pay as well as other types of writing, but you get more recognition.
  • Business Writing – This is writing for businesses, such as ads, brochures, direct mail. You need more refined skills and understanding of marketing. It pays better than public writing.
  • Scientific Writing – This type of writing can be very technical. Often it seems to be done by writers who are scientist or other experts first and writers second. You need to be able to break things down and rebuild them. It pays very well.

Writers tend to specialize in one of these areas. During my first stint as a freelance writer, my specialty would have been scientific. My current specialty is public writing. As your writing career grows, you will get opportunities to expand into other areas if you want to. It’s up to you whether you want to take them on. It will give you a chance to expand your horizons.

The important thing is to find the area that brings you the most satisfaction. I find myself having to find a lot more assignments than I used to during my first time as a freelance writer. However, I am enjoying myself a lot more now. It doesn’t really feel like a job. That’s what you’re aiming for.

 

 

Man Relaxing Behind Stack of DocumentsYou can certainly jump right into full-time freelance writing without any preparation. It’s the sink-or-swim method. I can’t say that that way works for most people, but maybe you’re one of the lucky few. Either way, you are certainly making it much harder on yourself to succeed.

I speak from experience on this. The first time I became a full-time freelance writer in the 1990s, I just jumped right in with no work or clients lined up. It was extremely stressful. I was working harder and longer hours than I had ever done before.

The second time I became a full-time freelance writer about 10 years ago was unexpected, but I was actually better prepared than I had been the first time.

Why? Because I had already started doing some part-time freelance writing on the side about six months earlier. I was lucky enough to have a boss who said that as long as the story wasn’t something that could run in the newspaper I was editing, he didn’t mind me freelance writing. Not all bosses are that kind. I had one boss try to tell that I couldn’t do any paid writing outside of the newspaper that I was writing for whether or not it was something that the paper could publish.

Ease into freelance writing. Start writing while you still have a regular paycheck. That way you can gain clients and experience. If you are really new to the writing game, you may need to make your first freelance assignments free or at a very low price in order to get clips. You might also need to do this even if you have experience but are trying to break into a new area. If you have a regular paycheck from a full-time job, you can do this without too much worry.

I would also recommend not specializing in a certain area, at least not at first. That was a mistake I made my first time freelancing. I had a few people lined up who were all part of the biotech industry. The work paid well, but it put me in a narrow pocket that I had a lot of trouble digging out of when I needed to.

Some freelancers can specialize right from the start, but because of that early experience I had just writing biotech materials, I’ve always felt like its too much like putting your eggs in one basket.

The second time I started freelancing, I started out as a generalist. I have developed specialty areas over the years, though. For example, I once pitched a Spanish flu story to a magazine. The editor liked the idea, but wanted it to look more at modern flu, too. So I wrote it from that angle (another reason to query) and turned in a health story. This lead to another health story with the same magazine about colds. With two clippings of health articles, I was able to successfully other health articles.

Another reason to start freelancing on a part-time basis rather than full-time is that it allows you time to build up a savings account that you can run your freelance business from until the checks start coming in regularly. This is called capitalization and under capitalization is the main reason that most businesses fail within 5 years. While freelancing doesn’t require as much capitalization, it does require some, particularly since it may be a month or more before you get paid after turning in an article.

Your overall goal starting out is to build your business. You do that by any means possible. At this early stage you can’t afford to be too choosy. Try everything. You never know what will work or not. Once you can start making a living and reach the point where you can’t fit more in, then you can begin prioritize and cut the least profitable areas from your business.

It’s a nice position to be in.

canstock9790341When I used to work as a reporter, I didn’t have a whole lot of leeway in what I wrote. I had a beat and it was my job to cover as much as I could in that area. A lot of times that meant I was writing about meetings or events that I was not too interested in. I used to come up with some great ideas when I was writing for a newspaper, but I couldn’t write the story because it wasn’t part of my beat.

That’s one of the things that I like about freelance writing. I write about topics that interest me far more often than when I was a reporter. The drawback is that usually I have to be the one to pitch the story to a magazine or other media outlet.

The way to make that pitch is with a query letter. There have been books written about how to write a query letter and they are filled with lots of examples that you can use as patterns. So if you are really having trouble putting a query letter together, I would suggest borrowing one of these books. Check out the list on Amazon here. You can also check out writers’ web sites. One good place to visit is Writer’s Weekly. There are lots of different articles about what to do and not to do when writing a query.

It all comes down to this: The sole purpose of the query letter is to hook the editor, intrigue him or her, and make them want to learn more.

In that respect, a query and your article work the same way. They both need to hook the reader. So that first paragraph is very important. Many times, the first paragraph in my query also ends up being the first paragraph in my article. If it hooked the editor and got me the assignment, then it can hook readers and keep them reading.

After I catch the editor’s attention with a paragraph or two, I lay out the article I am proposing. If I have a title, I’ll add that, but mainly I’ll let the editor know what the article will be about, who I will be interviewing, and any other resources I have that will help paint the picture that I am the person the editor wants writing the article.

The next paragraph is where I lay out my qualifications to write the article. I list pertinent publications that have published my articles and that I have won 25 newspaper writing awards.

Finally, I wrap it up by letting the editor know how to get in touch with me and asking for the assignment.

My queries aren’t long, but I have found that this is the format that works best for me. I have sent hundreds, maybe even thousands, of queries out over the years. This is the format that seems to get me the most assignment.

Check out the query letter books, though, and try a few of the formats that seem to catch your attention and see how they do. I occasionally change my format if I think the subject lends itself better to something different or I see a different type of query that catches my attention. Always look for ways to improve.

A couple other points to consider when writing your query:

  • Always check and see if there are writer’s guidelines. Nowadays with just about every publication having a web site, you will often find them there. Even if you don’t you will see current articles and be able to judge the lengths.
  • Consider writing for a department when trying to break into a new market. Editors will usually assign large feature articles to writers whom they know will deliver. If you are trying to break into a new market, pitch an article for one of the magazine’s departments. These are smaller pieces and less important to the magazine, which means the editor has less risk by assigning it to a new writer.
  • Address the query to a specific editor. Unless otherwise stated in the writer’s guidelines, find out the name of the editor who handles the type of article that you are proposing. This can be found by looking at the magazine’s masthead, which lists the magazine’s staff.
  • Use only published clips. If a magazine asks for clipping, use only published clippings. Scan them into your computer and attach them to your e-mail query. If you don’t have published clippings, then simply don’t attach anything.

writersblockI realized today that I’ve got writer’s block although I’m still writing around 6,000 words a week. I’m writing articles, blog posts, newspaper columns, and presentations. What I’m not writing is my next book project.

So can that be considered writer’s block? After all, I’m still writing. I’m just not working on the projects that I want to be writing. Even when I free my schedule up so that I’ll have time to write a few pages of my new book, I still wind up doing something else.

At first, I thought it might mean that the new book just isn’t working. I’ve been dabbling with three potential book projects, though, and I’m doing very little work on any of them.

Has anyone had this happen to them? I didn’t even realize it at first. Since I was writing, I thought everything was going fine. Writers write and I was writing. It was only when I started trying to focus on writing my book that I realized I had other things I could be writing.

Now that I’ve recognized the problem, I’m going to redouble my efforts to get some of my book writing done. Hopefully, I can break through the problem.

Some other post about writer’s block:

freelancingI’ve written about the pros and cons of freelance writing from the writer’s perspective in other blogs. That all still holds true if you are considering writing on a freelance basis. However, the person paying the bill needs to find benefit in using freelance writers, too.  Employers don’t care that you can select your own projects or have a flexible schedule. They want quality work at a good price with as little hassle as possible.    

Part of being successful as a freelancer is understanding what role you as a freelance writer play for with an employer. How you help them? Knowing that, you can fulfill their needs better and improve their satisfaction. This allows you to more easily retain those businesses as clients and get more work from them.

Magazines like to use freelancers because they provide new sources of ideas and perspectives. If a magazine uses full-time writers, it might only be able to hire a handful, but if it uses freelance writers, the number of potential writers is limitless. The editor can pick and choose the most-promising stories from a large pool of possibilities. So not only does the magazine get more new ideas, the editors can choose from the best of new ideas.

I used to do a lot of stories for a now-defunct magazine called Maryland Life. As the name suggests, the magazine’s coverage area was the entire state of Maryland. If the magazine had had to hire full-time writers to cover the entire state, it would have been too expensive. By using freelance writers, they don’t have to pay benefits, which can account for around 30 percent more above a full-time employee’s salary.

It can be simpler to hire a freelance writer. The company pays the writer a set fee for the article and the writer is responsible for dealing with paying the employment taxes on that amount.

In general, a freelance writer would charge less than an agency a company might hire for public relations or advertising. They can also get a higher level of expertise if they search for a freelance writer with the skills they want.

These are just a few things to keep in mind. While you become a freelance writer because of the way it benefits you, the only way you can stay a freelance writer over the long run is if you find ways to benefit your clients.

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Writing a book and earning royalties isn’t the only way you can make money from your book and it’s certainly not the fastest way. Even before your book hits the shelves, you can be making money from your research by creating articles related to your book topics. Not only will you create an additional revenue stream for yourself, you will help create interest in your book when it is released.

When you wrote your book, whether it was fiction or non-fiction, you most likely did research to make it authentic. That knowledge you now have can be turned into a number of different articles, each of which will earn you additional income, increase exposure of you as an expert on a subject that book explores and increase exposure of your book.

By using your research to create articles to help market your book, you’ll help increase your sales so that when those royalties come in, they will be larger than they otherwise might have been. The other way articles will help increase your sales is that they will increase your reputation as an author of topics in whatever field you write about.

For example, if you write a historical novel set during the Civil War, you can sell articles about the Civil War based on your research to regional and history magazines. Those readers will become familiar with your name and your writing style and be more likely to buy your books.

How Do You Do It?

The big question is how do you take a 100,000-word book and turn it into a 1,000-word article?

Serialize: The most-obvious answer is if your book is fiction, you can serialize it. You don’t see a lot of magazines serializing novels anymore and the serialization rights are usually part of your book contract so if you haven’t sold the book yet, you might be giving something away that could be valuable.

If you do serialize your novel, you can turn each chapter of your book into an article. Just imagine the extra revenue that could mean for you. Even if you run the article for free, you will still benefit consistent, regular and large exposure for your book. You probably couldn’t afford that much advertising.

A variation on this that has started gaining some popularity is serialization on the Internet, either through your own web site or an e-zine. Horror writer Doug Clegg serialized his novel Nightmare House on the Internet and by the time the serialization ended, Cemetery Dance Books had given him a five-figure advance.

Summarize: For non-fiction books, the most-obvious answer for creating articles from your book is to write articles based on one of the concepts in your book. It can be as easy as taking a chapter from the book, reworking it so it has a beginning and end and selling a stand-alone article. For books that don’t easily breakdown to one idea per chapter, you can summarize a concept or idea into an article. Jeff Guinn did this with an article he wrote about Bonnie and Clyde in Smithsonian Magazine that was based on his book Go Down Together. For someone interested in the article, he or she would also be interested in the book.

New Ideas: This method requires more work, but it can be more rewarding. Not all of your research on a topic makes it into a book, but it can be used to write articles. The article will still be about a topic found in your book. It just won’t be as directly connected to your book.       When doing this type of article, consider your research, not necessarily your book. What ideas did you have when you were reading up on different subjects? Chances are someone else could find it interesting, too.

Localize: Localizing your research is a technique that local news media teach for how to handle national topics. You find a local connection to a national topic. It requires additional research, but you already know the basics of the topic from your initial research. With a localized topic, you can market articles to every regional magazine in the country. There are two big advantages with this technique. 1) Even though your book may not be about the local area, it can create interest with local readers for your book by making a local connection. 2) It’s easier to create interest when you’re writing about something closer to the readers.

You Already Laid the Groundwork

The thing about using your book to develop articles is that it should be easier than coming up with a completely original idea. After all, you are familiar with the subject and enjoy it enough to have written a book around it. Because you are familiar with the subject, it should be easier for you develop the query letter and write the article.

Your article will probably be around 800 words, though the magazine editor will give you the word count that he or she needs.

  • Just like a short story needs to hook a reader early on, so does your article. Have an interesting fact or story that you can use to catch a reader’s attention.
  • Move into the main point you want to make and then move onto the lesser points.
  • Don’t make the article about you or your book, and don’t write in the first person.
  • Use subheads, bullets, numbered lists, etc. These things break up the copy and make it easy to follow.
  • Make sure to include your website at the end of the article.

 Reference Your Book

Though your article shouldn’t necessarily be about your book, you should make sure to get a reference it and/or your e-mail address into the article. This usually comes as an author blurb at the end of the article so that you can tie it back to your book or web site. John Kremer, 1001 ways to market your book noted that Tom and Marilyn Ross have sold articles based on their books and “In each case, they insisted that the magazine include an endnote telling readers where they could order the book.”

Within the blurb, ask the reader to visit your web site. In an ad, that would be a call to action. This call to visit your web site should be the only place in your article where you promote yourself.

Don’t Forget the Internet

Don’t overlook web sites as a location to publish your articles. If you can generate visitors to your web site, it can make a great place to serialize your novel. On the Internet, your author blurb will become an active link to take the reader right to your web site. You can also write articles as free content for other web sites to attract readers to your web site where you can hopefully entice them to buy your book and turn it into a bestseller.

In today’s marketplace where catching a reader’s attention can take some creative marketing, using your book to create articles will bring readers interested in your topic right to your doorstep. It will build your credibility in your field and increase your contacts with editors who might be willing to review or promote your books in other ways. Besides, how often do you get paid to market yourself and your books? Don’t miss out on this chance.

 

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