Writer Aid celebrates ten years of advice for writers

Dear writers and readers, this blog has been dormant since late last year, but I had to mark the 10-year anniversary of my first post by telling you that I have updated the past posts, revising where the information was no longer accurate and making sure all the links worked. Those updated posts are my gift to you. Because I think it would be good to have all the advice put together in one place in a logical order, I am also planning to compile my blog posts into an e-book. I will let you know about that as soon as it’s available.

In the beginning, the blog was called Freelancing for Newspapers. I started it to publicize my then-upcoming Freelancing for Newspapers book. I’ll be honest. Some of those first posts were so lame it hurts to read them now. I was just learning how to blog. Now I offer a class on it. (click on Classes above). Over those first few years, I offered a mix of my own experiences writing freelance articles, plus information about the newspaper business and advice for writers on everything from how to get an assignment to how to get paid.

But the publishing world changed, I changed, and so did this blog. It morphed from Freelancing for Newspapers to Freelancing for Newspapers +, the plus sign indicating I might talk about more than newspapers. Eventually it became Writer Aid so I could address all sorts of writing, including fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction (and also maybe lure readers into my servers for writers).

At the same time, the newspaper business was changing. With the double whammy of the recession and the Internet, newspapers were going under or shrinking. Longtime staff writers were losing their jobs by the hundreds. And freelance opportunities became harder to find. Our local daily, The Oregonian, went from a stuffed package loaded with special sections to a thin tabloid. How could one write for the garden or arts sections when even the decades-long editors of those sections were now unemployed?

My own life was changing, too. I was caring for my husband, who had Alzheimer’s Disease. In 2009, he moved into a nursing home, and in 2011, he died. Through it all, I kept writing, but I was easing out of article writing and focusing more on poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction. I went back to school and earned my MFA in creative writing. I started teaching. I published two more books, Shoes Full of Sand and Childless by Marriage.

All of these changes were reflected in the blog as I talked about self-publishing, poetry, plots, settings, characters, and selling books. For a while, the blog shrank down to three quick tips because that’s all I could manage, but I kept it going. Last December, I decided there were too many writers blogging about writing, and the world didn’t need me doing it. I would focus on my other blogs, Unleashed in Oregon and Childless by Marriage.

I’m still not sure the world needs me writing about writing. Writers are so inbred, and I think it’s important to talk to the rest of the world. But as I put together the e-book, I suspect I will find topics that I have not yet addressed, and I will write new posts to fill in the blanks. If you sign up to follow the blog, WordPress will let you know when that happens.

You can still buy the Freelancing for Newspapers book. Some of the information is outdated now, but the basics of writing and selling articles is the same. The steps in the book will lead you from idea to published story, not just in newspapers but in magazines and online publications. Order a copy.

Now go write something.


Print market guides are not enough anymore

Print vs. digital? In the writing world, the conversation about which is best never seems to end. Which is a better way to reach readers? Will print books soon become extinct? Does reading on a screen change how we experience books? Etc.

But in one area, I’m here to tell you digital is better. That area is market guides. For decades, I bought the latest Writer’s Market every year. I also bought the Writer’s Handbook, Poet’s Market, guides to agents, and other marketing books. Having them on paper was handy. I could sit out in the sun and go through the listings, marking the likely markets with paper clips or Post-Its. I could write in corrections and changes I found in my writing magazines or online. I plotted my marketing plans with lists of names and page numbers for magazines, newspapers and book publishers. I loved when the new guides arrived, so full of opportunities.

But here’s the thing. It usually takes a year or longer to publish a book. By the time those books are published, the information they contain has changed. I have been going through my own book, Freelancing for Newspapers: Writing for an Overlooked Market, checking the references, and at least half are out of date. I try to keep my online reference list (which you can access above) current, but I can’t do anything about the print version.

The same goes for the market guides. Editors, addresses, and requirements may all have changed by the time you read about a publication. They might not even be in business anymore. So you have to go to their website to get the latest information. While you’re there, you can read as much content as they make available to get a better idea of what they publish. If it all looks good, you may be able to follow a link to a submission form by which you can submit your work right away. Digitally, of course.

The Writer’s Digest company that publishes Writer’s Market and its sister books for poets, short story writers, screenwriters, etc., has an online guide at writersmarket.com. It costs $39.99 a year or $5.99 a month to subscribe. If you find a market of interest there, you will end up clicking through to the publication’s website. Ultimately, you always have to go to the website, so why not start there? Do a Google search for your type of publication, such as “parenting magazines” and follow the links to the ones that interest you. It doesn’t cost a thing and gets you to the latest, most accurate information.

The market books are not useless. Most contain wonderful articles about all aspects of writing and publishing, and you can still take them out in the sun to peruse the possibilities. Just know that that’s not enough. You have to go online. Also know that old market guides that you might find in second-hand stores are not going to be much help.

Do you have favorite market listings that you use? Let’s share in the comments and compile a list, okay?

We can’t send out what we don’t write, so now . . . Let’s go write.


Contrary to Reports, the Newspaper Business is Not Dead

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 about some of the changes that have occurred in the newspaper business since 2007. Today we’ll look at some more.

The newspaper business took a huge hit from the recession and the increasing move to digital media. Some papers folded, others went to all-online versions, and others just printed fewer pages. Most decreased staff dramatically. The Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project reports that we have gone from approximately 1,500 daily newspapers in the U.S. to 1,382. Full-time editorial staff is down 29 percent, from 56,900 in 1989 to under 40,000 by 2012. A lot of unemployed staff writers have now become freelancers, increasing the competition for assignments, but in many cases, more newspapers are using freelance work.

In my book, I quoted the Newspaper Association of America as saying 8 in 10
American adults read a daily newspaper. That number has gone down and where they read it has changed. According to the NAA, 7 in 10 adults access content from newspaper media each week. They read newspaper content, but it isn’t always on paper. They read it on their computers, iPads and smart phones. The good news is that the 7 in 10 figure applies to all age groups. Despite dire predictions, young people are reading the news. For us writers, who cares if it’s on paper or on a screen? Somebody still has to write it, and that’s where we come in.

So, are newspapers still a great source of freelance opportunities? Yes. And as I note in the book, they still offer more chances, especially for beginning writers, than magazines do, simply because they come out more often and publish more articles. You might earn more money with magazines, but you’re more likely to get published in newspapers. True story: last week, after almost a year and several emails, I finally got a response from a magazine to which I sent an article. The response: Can’t use it. All of their articles through 2015 have already been scheduled. 2015?

Grab a newspaper and think about what you might write for it. Are other freelancers getting published there? Why not you?

Now go write.

P.S. Freelancing for Newspapers is a helpful resource for all kinds of article writing. Its chapters tell how to write, submit and get paid for the most popular types of articles. I will happily mail you a copy for $10, including postage. Email me at sufalick@gmail.com if you’re interested. Or you can order the book in print or e-book form from your favorite bookseller.

P.P.S. If you’re already tired of hearing about newspaper freelance, please let me know.

 


Are newspapers still a great source of freelance opportunities?

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 sufalick@gmail.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.


Start Writing Where You Live

I have been reading this great article about setting by Jacob M. Appel in the November/December Writer’s Digest, and that got me thinking about how where we live relates to what we write.

One piece of advice that especially hit home was Appel’s suggestion that we set our fictional stories in places we know very well, places where we have actually lived. With a guilty twinge, I thought about a novel that I drafted a few years back that I set on the other side of the country in a city in Massachusetts that I had visited for a few days. Great place. I took a lot of pictures and notes and always planned to go back and do more research, but can I ever capture the heart of a city where I have only spent a few days? I can gather lots of facts on the Internet, but can I really feel the place in my bones? I doubt it. Locals will know I’m faking it.

The novel I’m just finishing is set right here on the Oregon coast. I’ve been here for 17 years. I know the history, the people, the climate. I know what used to be where Walgreen’s just opened. I know the mayor, I swap critiques with a county commissioner, I have taught at the community college, had surgery at the local hospital, I know what kinds of birds, plants and wild animals live here, and I can name most of the businesses up and down Highway 101. I’m lucky that I live in a place where the natural setting offers plenty of opportunities for drama. I could write stories about the Oregon coast forever.

I come from San Jose, California, which has grown from a quiet farm community into a huge metropolis. You have to hunt for unpaved ground. Traffic, overcrowding and high prices are constant factors in everyday life. It’s a completely different scene, but I know that one well, too. My family lives there, and I visit often. I also know the road from here to San Jose ridiculously well. I’ve got so many places to set my stories.

How about you? Where do you live? What stories can you tell? Can you look at your hometown with the eyes of a visitor seeing it for the first time? Maybe they’re armed with a guidebook that points out the special attractions, but you know more about it than the guidebook. You know where the locals hang out. You know the history, the secrets, and the dangers. You know the language. One of my problems with the Massachusetts story was capturing that distinct New England way of speaking. But I don’t have to stretch to write dialogue from the West Coast. That’s how I speak.

Everywhere can be a setting for a story. For a writer, the whole world teems with stories. With enough research, you can set your story anywhere, but know that if you want to make it real, the best place to start is the place you call home. It may also help your career to become identified with a particular place. Give it a try. Write a story that happens where you live.

Next week: How to use where you live for your nonfiction.

*****

I’ve still got a few copies of Freelancing for Newspapers: Writing for an Overlooked Market available for $10, including shipping. Email me at sufalick@gmail.com if you want to buy an autographed copy.

Now go write.


Are Newspapers Still a Viable Market for Freelance Writers?

Six years ago (!), I published a book titled Freelancing for Newspapers and started a blog by the same name. As the years passed, I changed the name to Freelancing for Newspapers+ to expand my posts into the world beyond newspapers. About three years ago, I changed it to Writer Aid. I didn’t want to limit myself to posting about only one kind of writing, especially in a changing world where newspapers seemed to be cutting back, going all-digital or going out of business.

Lately I have been asking people whether they think newspapers are still a viable market. After all, I wrote a whole book, as well as several articles, that proclaimed that newspapers are a great place for writers to publish their work. I wrote that newspapers paid less than magazines but used more stories and that they were a great place for new writers to break in and collect some clips. Is that still true?

Yes, with two big cautions:

1) It’s not as easy as it used to be. Newspapers everywhere are shutting down, cutting back, laying people off. Some dailies are now only publishing a few days a week. The paper in the driveway isn’t nearly as fat as it used to be. Less space means fewer stories. Laid-off reporters means more people trying to freelance. Some papers no longer have any freelance budget, but others—pay attention here—are making up for the lack of staff writers with more freelance.

In my own experience, I used to write for a local entertainment newspaper that paid very well for stories that were really fun to do. But the paper got sold last year, and the new owners don’t use any freelance. Another paper for which I freelanced kept cutting the length of my stories. Since I was getting paid by the word, that meant I was making less money. Plus I didn’t have room to say anything meaningful. On the other hand, the local general-interest newspaper that covers our community never used to use freelance, and now it does.

You’ll find the most opportunities in alternative weeklies and special-interest newspapers that focus on a particular religion, occupation, hobby, ethnic group, etc. Some community newspapers use freelance; others don’t. Most big dailies still accept travel articles and commentary but not much else. The New York Times still uses freelance and pays well—if you’re writing at their level.

As always, you’ll need to study the market, check the bylines, and see where you can fit in. You’ll need to wow editors with your queries and your clips. You won’t make much money, but you can make some, and you can use your clips and your research as springboards to other better-paying opportunities.

2. It’s a multi-media world. Newspapers today don’t just publish on paper. Most papers have a strong online presence. Their paper stories also appear on their websites, along with other content that doesn’t fit in the paper, including more articles, more columns, and more pictures. Sometimes audio and video go along with it. You will find more opportunities here, some paid, some not. Whatever you write, expect to provide Internet-ready content with links to related sites. This is more work, but that’s how it is these days.

The world is changing. Young people today are growing up in homes where nobody ever reads a newspaper. We can get general news more quickly on our TVs, radios, computers, tablets and smartphones. We look to newspapers for more in-depth coverage and the kinds of special-interest stories that don’t make it to digital media.

There ARE opportunities to freelance for newspapers. Can you make a living from it? Writing for the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, yes. For your local neighborhood weekly or senior monthly, probably not, but you can make some money, have some fun, get experience writing for publication and collect clips that can lead to bigger things.

For a fascinating look at what’s happening in the media these days, read the Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media report. Along with sobering statistics, it raises some interesting questions about how special interest groups are using the media to push their own agendas.

Today freelancing for newspapers is just one piece of the puzzle. But the skills you learn doing it can be transferred across this ever-growing multi-media world. My Freelancing for Newspapers book still works. Just add “and other media.” I’ve got 12 copies left. If you email me at sufalick@gmail.com and mention this post, I’ll send you an autographed copy for $10, including postage.

I welcome your comments.


How do I get my article published?

I received an email request recently from a reader named Ron. He tells me he has been journaling and writing letters to pen pals and to newspapers for years. He has also self-published a book which sold all 500 copies. What follows is an excerpt from that letter, as well as my reply.

I have a small, painless favor to ask for which I’d be very grateful for help with. I want to write a newspaper article on the upcoming 30th anniversary of the passing of a legendary singer who is often over-looked and forgotten. The date is in February but I can easily write the article in no time as I am an expert on the subject. I don’t know anything about freelancing or the business but I want it to be one of those articles that gets picked up by papers all across the country. I don’t know where to begin on how to make that happen. But if you could point me in that direction with step one or step two I’d be forever grateful.

Dear Ron,

I’m going to respond to your letter both here and in my blog because your request is a common one, and many readers would be interested in the answer.

First, congratulations for your life-long love of writing. All those journal entries and letters have no doubt made you comfortable with the written word, and that’s a wonderful thing. Congratulations on selling 500 copies of your book. That’s quite an accomplishment.

However, what you ask is not “a small, painless favor.” What you are asking me to do is to distill the entire contents of my Freelancing for Newspapers book into one email. That’s neither small nor painless, especially right after Christmas when I’m typing in my sleep because my day job (and yes, like most freelance writers with bills to pay, I have one) is playing and singing music at church.

I hate to say it, but it would take a small miracle to get the article you describe published. First, you have a blatant grammatical error in your first paragraph. An editor reading “I must have wrote” would stop reading right there.

Second, journal entries and letters to the editor do not qualify one to write newspaper articles. Neither does a self-published book unless it’s on the same subject that you want to write about.

Third, when you say “I can easily write the article in no time as I am an expert on the subject,” you have totally cut off any chance of being accepted. A good article takes time and effort, and your lack of humility is a real red flag to an editor.

Fourth, when you say you don’t know anything about freelancing but you want your article to get picked up by papers all across the country, you show that you have no clue how that happens.

If you truly want to sell this article to an editor, you must:

1) Research the market and find a suitable newspaper to approach

2) Write a query letter that includes an attention-getting opening, an explanation of why that newspaper’s readers would be interested in your article, a description of why you’re qualified to write it, and some samples of your previous work

3) If you get the assignment, you must research, write and revise until it’s the best article you could possibly write, following whatever guidelines you get from the editor, and hope that it’s published in ONE newspaper.

You might approach some of the syndicated news services listed in Writers Market, but only a few take one-shot submissions, and they won’t assign a piece to a writer with no experience writing articles of the sort they use.

I don’t want to burst your bubble on the day after Christmas. There are all kinds of writing, and it’s good that you’ve done well with letters and with your mom’s obituary. That’s a real gift. I’m impressed with the success of your book. But that doesn’t necessarily qualify you to write a newspaper article. You can learn, you can get experience and clips and move into article-writing, but you have to work your way up.

If you’re still determined to try, talk to a local editor to get a clear picture of what you need to do to write an article they will publish. Send out some queries and see what happens.

Don’t stop writing.

Best of luck,

Sue

I welcome your comments and questions.