It has been seven years since my book Freelancing for Newspapers: Writing for an Overlooked Market was published. The world of publishing has changed dramatically since I wrote that book. Last week, I wrote here about my college journalism textbook, published in 1971, and the changes that have occurred since then. Well, the changes keep coming. As I lay awake last night trying to figure out what to write today, I realized it was time to open my own book and take a good look at what might be out of date.
So if you have a copy, open your book to the introduction and follow along. If you don’t have one, I have numerous copies of Freelancing for Newspapers. It is still a helpful resource, and I will happily mail you a copy for $10, including postage. Email me at email@example.com if you’re interested. Or you can order the book in print or e-book form from your favorite bookseller.
People do still read newspapers, but they don’t always read them on paper. I’m thinking about my brother, an attorney who devours several major papers a day. Since he bought his iPad, he is more likely to read them online than in print. I’ve been known to read the news on my phone. My dad, who is anti-computer, still reads the San Jose Mercury News in print. So you might have a stack of newspapers, or you might just have your e-readers. You will probably find extra stories online that are not in the print versions—and you might find more opportunities for freelance articles online as well.
In the book, I mention two sources of market listings, Writer’s Market and American Directory of Writer’s Guidelines. I rarely use my Writer’s Market, and I never use the other directory. Print directories go out of date as soon as they’re published. Mostly I go directly to the publication’s website. For news about publishing opportunities, I subscribe to the Creative Writers Opportunities List (CRWROPPS, a Yahoo group), writingcareer.com, The Practicing Writer, and writing-world.com. I get tips from other writers in various forums, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. I also subscribe to the online version of Writer’s Market, but I’m finding its listings too limited; I always end up following the links to the publication anyway. If I’m looking for a particular type of market, I just look it up on Google. Writer’s Digest Publications puts out some great market directories, not just for articles, but for poetry, fiction, and other genres. You might start with these, but to get the latest information, you’ll need to go to the publications’ websites.
Every editor will tell you to study the market before you submit a story or a query. It’s still true, except that now you can do your studying online without seeking out a print copy. Look for areas where your interests might fit their needs, and look for freelance bylines, identified by tags like “Special to the Oregonian” or short bios at the end of stories that identify the writer as a freelancer.
Many newspapers have gone out of business or ceased publishing in print. Most are considerably thinner than they used to be. Fewer pages mean fewer stories. Lots of local papers have been purchased by giant media companies that use fewer local writers. Many reporters and editors lost their jobs in the double whammy of the recession and the increasing shift to Internet media. But there are still opportunities for freelancers, especially in specialty publications. Newspapers for particular hobbies, religions, occupations, interests or disabilities are still being published and using freelance work.
My own situation has changed since Freelancing for Newspapers came out. I’m not writing for newspapers these days. When Freelancing for Newspapers was published, I had just become the baby boomer correspondent for Northwest Senior News. I’m proud that the baby boomer section is still there, but I left that newspaper when my assignments kept shrinking so that I only had 500 words at most to tell my stories. I started writing for Oregon Coast Today, which paid well and gave me a chance to do some great stories. When a new owner took over, however, they decreased their freelance budget to almost nothing, and I was out. I was busy with other writing projects anyway. Since 2007, I have published two more books, Shoes Full of Sand and Childless by Marriage.
Is freelancing for newspapers still a viable thing to do? Or course. But if I were writing that book today, I’d give it a different title to reflect the need to include the many new ways one can publish in our multi-media world.
Next week, we’ll check out chapter 1.
But for now, don’t worry about publishing and all that. Write whatever needs to be written. For example, I’m working on an essay about ice cream. I invite you to write about ice cream, too. Take it in any direction you want. Let me know what you came up with.
Ready? Ice Cream. Now go write.
Once a week I am offering three quick tips that you can take and use right away. For those of us who would rather be writing than reading blogs, this is a place you can grab something useful and get back to work. If you have suggestions, please share them in the comments section.
Everyone who writes and/or teaches about freelance writing offers the same basic information, how to find ideas, write queries, do research, write, revise, yada, yada, yada, but the Renegade Writers tell you the stuff the rest don’t tell you. Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell, who have turned one Renegade Writer book into a collection of books and blogs, offer advice, free e-books, e-courses and other goodies at http://www.therenegadewriter.com.
You guessed it: The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success, now available in print and as an e-book, will tell you all the good, bad and ugly about freelance writing. And don’t stop at this one book. They have others, including The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock: The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Selling More Work Faster and A Renegade Writer Kick in the Ass: 30 Riffs from the Renegade Writer Blog to Help you Bust Your Excuses, Light a Fire Under Your Butt, and Become a More Motivated & Productive Freelance Writer.
Be a renegade writer yourself. Close your eyes and picture your byline on the one thing that will make you feel like a successful writer. It could be a book, an article, a short story, poem, script, or song. Now open your eyes and write for at least 30 minutes about what you need to do to make it happen. The word “can’t” is not allowed.
Now Go Write
You spend 20 hours researching a great idea, e.g., why kids join gangs, and it’s rejected. Three months (or six months or a year) later, the editor calls: Will you write an article on how to plan the perfect wedding?
Despite the way writing publications constantly encourage us to query with our great ideas, most magazines are planned in-house. Editors and staff decide what stories they want to have written, then find writers to do it. They have annual special sections and departments to fill, and they always have to think about their advertisers. The wedding story fits into their bridal section and will help sell ads to every business that deals with weddings. The gangs article may be fantastic, but it doesn’t fit anywhere, and it doesn’t sell anything. There are publications that handle serious issues, but most of them are newspapers or journals with private funding, not the slick magazines sold at Safeway.
Why did they call you to write about weddings? Your query showed them you were a competent writer. They decided you were worth a try. Pat yourelf on the back and start calling wedding consultants. Once they know you, they’ll be open to your ideas and might even find a way to work that gangs story into a future issue.
One way to get inside the process is to look at magazines’ editorial calendars. These rough out the themes and featured topics for upcoming issues. They are routinely given to advertisers to encourage them to buy ads. Do a search for “editorial calendars” or, more specifically, your target magazine’s calendar and see where you can match your talents to their desires. For example, I just looked up the Horizon airline magazine’s calendar. It’s listed under its parent publication at http://alaskaairlinesmagazine.com/horizonedition/editorial. I see that they’re featuring Southern Oregon, the 2012 summer Olympics in England, and gourmet ice cream in July and doing a special section on Idaho in October. Hmmm.
If you really want to write for a specific magazine, study it so well that you know exactly what the editor is looking for and when, then offer to provide it. A good query may get your foot in the door, but the right query will have them inviting you in and offering you a chair.
I thought I knew a lot about magazines. When I agreed to substitute as editor at a local regional magazine a while back, I figured my years of newspaper work and freelance writing made me an expert on how magazines were planned, put together and published. Wrong!
Writers who think editors are monsters who mangle their manuscripts and laugh at their frustrations have not yet learned the lessons I learned working as one of them. In the next few posts, I will share what I found out. You may be surprised.
1. Why is it taking so long?
You send out the query or manuscript, wait a month, and start to get antsy. Geez, they should have responded by now; what’s holding this up? Maybe they like my idea. No, maybe they hate it. No, maybe . . .
The truth? Maybe nobody has even looked at it yet. It could have gone to an editor who no longer works there and now it’s sitting in a pile of letters nobody knows what to do with. The editor might have opened it, read it, and set it aside to deal with after deadline or until the story meeting, at which the editor, publisher and various staff members discuss content for upcoming issues.
If your submission arrives in the wrong part of the cycle, it could be two months before anyone gives it any serious thought. Or, maybe the editor likes it, but someone else on the staff has to approve it and that someone is too busy to look at it. Or, they like it, but your article on the new sea otter farm doesn’t fit into the special issue they’re preparing on June weddings, so they want to “keep it on file” indefinitely.
Lesson: Be patient. It seems like a long time, and it is, but you can’t change the system by nagging the editor. You can only annoy her until she rejects you just to get you off her back. Wait under the response time stated in their guidelines has passed, then send an e-mail or make a polite phone call to see what’s happening. If you don’t get a satisfactory answer and you have a better place to sell your work, tell the editor and then do it. Meanwhile, take your mind off the delay by working on other writing projects.
Next week: Why would an editor ask me to write something completely different from what I proposed in my query letter?
>Our Thanksgiving trip to California provided the opportunity to check out some new newspapers. Any one of them might turn out to be a great market–or not. When you walk past a rack of free papers, always grab one. If they’re not free, consider spending the 50 cents or dollar to buy a copy. This is your chance to see the actual paper, not the condensed version on the Internet. As always while market-hunting,
check the bylines and look for taglines at the ends of the stories. Also glance at the staff box somewhere in the first few pages. And don’t overlook the offbeat papers.
For example, while waiting for our daughter to come down from her office at a Hayward, CA auto auction place, I found a rack full of the Automotive News–or something like that. I have minimal interest in cars, but somebody else I know might be interested, so I looked. Every article is staff written or done by an advertiser grabbing some free publicity. Forget that.
However, we stopped for lunch on the way home at a restaurant called Heaven on Earth. It’s at Quines Creek, south of Roseburg on I-5. If you’re ever in the mood for a huge and tasty meal accompanied by Christian background music, stop in. Their baked goods are amazing, and they gave us free apple crisp just for being there. Anyway, they had a rack of free papers called The Christian Journal. And you know what? It’s almost all freelance. Unlike most papers, which make you grovel for guidelines, this one had the information right under the staff box. They are looking for “uplifting” pieces 300 to 600 words, and they pay actual money. The stories aren’t bad. Christian pubs might not be your thing, but it’s an example of what you can find if you check out every newspaper that comes your way.
Even if they don’t use freelance, you can learn about the area and maybe get some ideas for articles for other papers. If, for example, they published a post-Thanksgiving feature on how to make Christmas shopping easier, you could do the same thing for your local paper.
So grab those free papers and start reading.
>A triangle has three angles, a rectangle has four, a pentagon has five, but an idea for a newspaper article can have as many angles as you can think of. I’m currently in the process of creating articles, blogs and other outtakes from the pet-related chapter of the book I’m writing on childless women. So far, I’ve got 19 angles about people’s relationships with their pets. I haven’t even gotten into choosing pets, training them, feeding them, breeding them or health concerns.
Some ideas may be more viable than others. For example, what will I do with the note about dogs watching while we have sex? Hey, doesn’t yours? Our dog gets this sappy grin on her face, and I don’t know what that’s all about. But there are angles with stronger legs, such as pet custody in divorce cases and why pets are easier to raise than children.
Think about something you love or that at least fascinates you. How many ways can you spin it? Brainstorm awhile and you’ll be surprised.
>Do blogs help you write and sell freelance articles? I have just completed an article that will appear on writing.world.com sometime in the near future. In my Freelancing for Newspapers book, I don’t touch much on blogs, but if I had a chance to add a chapter, I would write more about blogs because they are becoming so popular. Paul Gillin’s book The New Influencers says there were 50 million in mid-2006, and the number is increasing every day.
I think blogs are helpful for the exposure, the research possibilities and the connection with newspaper editors and reporters who blog, but I would love to know what other people think. Tell me how you use blogs in your work. If you don’t use blogs, is that by choice or because you’re not sure how to go about it?
Let’s blog about it!