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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.
Here’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.
- 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.
- 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.
All 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.
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You 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.
When 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.
I 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:
I’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.
I love freelance writing. It’s a great job. It may not be for everyone, but it certainly suits my personality. It’s not a perfect job, though. I doubt if there ever is one.
One of the negatives of the job is that there’s no vacation or sick time that you accrue.
Vacations usually aren’t a big problem. I know they are coming far enough ahead of time so I can make sure any deadlines that fall during my vacation are taken care of ahead of time. I can also spread the extra work out so that I don’t have any days where I’m trying to do double my usual work.
The same can’t be said for sick time. There’s no warning for that as I discovered last week. A kidney stone had me in near-constant pain for three days. I couldn’t manage to focus on much of anything except not yelling.
During the short bouts of time where the pain faded, I did the essential things that had to be done. Everything else, I pushed off to a later time.
I made it through the sick time, but now that I’m back to myself, I got to catch up on all of the work that has piled up. It surprising how quickly it does stack up.
That’s when the flexibility that I love about freelancing comes in handy. I spent Monday catching up on the work that I pushed off while I was sick and Tuesday catching up my Monday work as well as my Tuesday work.
At the end of the day, I took a deep breath when I had finally caught up with my work.
So while freelancing has its drawbacks at times (and it has more than the one I mentioned here), the advantages give you some ways to deal with them that you might not have otherwise.
I used to wonder how a centerfold or porn actor explains their past to their children. In today’s age of the Internet, it seems that all of those past skeletons in the closet never stay there. Just look at what happened last year when all those celebrities’ phones got hacked and embarrassing photos of them were posted on the internet.
The writer’s version of this must be when old novels or articles come back to haunt them. One of my favorite authors, Dean Koontz, wrote lots of novels until pen names when he was struggling to make a living. Apparently, some were even softcore porn. He has said in various interviews that he has bought back the rights of those novels and they will never again see the light of day.
However, the novels were published and copies are still out there if you know what name Koontz used when he wrote them. I’m not sure if all of his pen names are known, but if they are, then it’s just a matter of someone finding one of those pen names of a book cover.
When I started out freelancing years ago, I had to scramble to make ends meet. One way I did this was to write for web sites called content mills. They are web sites that provide content for a lot of other web sites like eHow.com and Livestrong.com.
The articles didn’t pay much, but they also didn’t require a lot of work. I could generally turn one of the articles around in an hour, and to be sure, that is what I did. Since content mills didn’t pay well, I wasn’t going to put hours of work into the story. I got $20 for a 500-word article, on average.
So I didn’t put a lot of work into these articles. Turnaround was important, and I tried to do 3 or 4 a day before I went onto the work I really wanted to be writing. These articles weren’t ones that I put a lot of effort into, but I did try and research them to get them right.
On top of this, the articles were vetted by editors who also weren’t putting a lot of time into their work because they got paid by the number of articles they edited. That means, sometimes, even when I had something right, the editor changed it to something that was inaccurate.
I wrote most of these articles around 10 years ago. However, every once in a while I get an e-mail from someone with a question about the accuracy of one of the articles. Most of the inquiries are from polite people, but some are aggressive, accusing me of all sorts of things.
I try my best to answer the questions politely (even the mean ones). However, quite honestly, I don’t remember these articles. By contrast, I generally remember the articles that I cared about. So I am unable to answer these questions fully, which is not a position that I like being in.
I am embarrassed that these older pieces are still out there after all this time. They certainly don’t represent my best work, but they are still out there representing me. I don’t even have any rights to the work because they were all done as work for hire. That means I can’t ask for the articles to be taken down when I come across one of them.
If there is a silver lining, though, these articles do show me how far I’ve come since I started on this freelance writing journey.
As I sit here battling the winter blahs and waiting for my youngest boy to get home school early because of the threat of bad weather coming in, I realize one of the peeves I have about being a freelance writer. I don’t get snow days.
When I get the morning calls around 6 a.m. saying whether school has been cancelled or not, I’ve already been at work for an hour. The same snow that gives government employees liberal leave simply means that I probably won’t be able to reach people that I need to talk to on the phone.
Yes, I know it’s not a big peeve in the grand picture, but it would still be nice to have an excuse not to work every once in a while.
This drawback of freelancing is offset by the fact that I do make my own schedule. I may start work early, but I can take a nap in the middle of the day when I start to feel dragged out and then hit the ground running in the afternoon. That’s nice. I just read this morning that Winston Churchill used to take a 1.5 hour nap each day and credited for allowing him to cram a day and half of work into a single day.
By the same token, I don’t get paid vacation. This usually means that in the days leading up to any vacation that I take I find myself doing more so that my vacation days are still relatively free. I still take my notebook computer along to check e-mail and deal with any issues that might arise.
On the flip side, I can take as much vacation time as I want as long as I’m meeting my deadlines. I was able to take four days off last week to go to South Carolina to see my son graduate from marine recruit training at Parris Island.
So that’s my gripe as I try to fight off the blahs.