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own book, Freelancing for Newspapers: Writing for an Overlooked Market, checking the references, and at least half are out of date.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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
I’m off to California again, taking a poetry workshop, visiting Dad, and celebrating my birthday. I don’t think I should get all the presents. So let me offer you a few goodies for your tool box.
A couple weeks ago, I blogged about finding an agent. I neglected to mention some resources that can help you on your search, especially if all this agent biz is new to you. For example: The Poets & Writers Guide to Literary Agents, only $4.99 for the e-book, explains everything you need to know to embark on your agent search. This does not include listings of agents, but you can find a list at the pw.org website. You can also find information about agents and listings at Writer’s Market, Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents and Chuck Sambuchino’s 2014 Guide to Literary Agents.
Stuck for a word? It happens to me a lot lately. Actually I usually have a word, but I can’t use it three times in one paragraph, right? Visit thesaurus.com to get a list of other words that mean about the same thing. Helpful hint on using thesauruses: If you don’t know what a word means, you probably want to skip that one.
If it wifi, WI-FI, Wi-Fi or what? Is it ebook or e-book? These are the things that drive copyeditors nuts and that all writers should try to get right. Two sources of the answers are the Associated Press Style Manual, the book favored by most newspapers and many magazines, and the Chicago Manual of Style for the more literary among us. AP also has a Facebook page, which gives out a new hint every day. For example, during the Olympics, they told us how to spell those fancy figure skating moves.
These links ought to hold you till I get back.
Now go write.
If you read any of the many publications for writers, you’ll see information about writing contests. Most offer money and an opportunity to have your winning prose or poetry published. Sounds good, right? Well, it can be, but let’s look at what it entails.
Why do publications and writing organizations offer contests? Certainly it gives them a chance to find and reward good writing. It also brings them publicity. For groups, it draws attention to their conferences and workshops and may attract new members, especially if membership is thrown in with the entry fee. For publications, contests can be a way of finding the best writing for their pages. But for most folks who sponsor writing contests, it’s mostly a money-maker. It helps pay the bills.
That said, let’s look at the pros and cons.
Winning a contest can boost your ego and your career, especially if it’s a big contest. You get published and you get publicity in everything from the contest website to your local newspaper. Sometimes you are invited to read your winning entry at an awards ceremony. It looks great on your resume.
You get money, sometimes a lot of money.
Your work gets published, which could lead to it being picked up for an anthology or being noticed by an agent or book editor, which could make you famous. Probably not, but it might.
Even if you don’t win, the contest deadline forces you to finish a piece of work and get it ready to submit.
Some contests are thinly veiled schemes to get writers to pay to have their work published when they could have it published elsewhere for free.
The fees add up. Most contests charge at least $15 to enter a story or set of 3-5 poems. For book-length works, the fees average around $25. Sometimes you get a magazine subscription thrown in, but how bad do you want that magazine?
The biggest contests attract thousands of entries, so what are the odds they’ll pick yours? Meanwhile, you have to either keep the work you enter off the market for months while the judges choose the winners or send it out with the risk that if someone buys it and you do win, you’ll have to withdraw from the contest.
A writer can waste a lot of time entering contests when she might be better off simply submitting her work.
What to do?
I’ll be honest. I enter contests. Sometimes I win; mostly I don’t. But one big win could really boost my career, so I do it. Each of us needs to figure out whether it’s worth the time and money to enter contests, then do so with our eyes open. For example, I won’t enter a contest that doesn’t pay at least $1,000. I won’t enter if publication is not included. I also don’t enter contests sponsored by journals or organizations I’ve never heard of. Even if I won, what would come of it?
If you do decide to try contests, the most important thing is to follow the guidelines. Submit online as directed or by mail if that’s what they want. If they tell you not to put your name on the manuscript, make sure it doesn’t appear anywhere, not on the front page, not in your headers, not in the text. Meet their requirements for length and formatting. Read winning entries from the past to see if you write the kinds of things they like.
You can find contest listings in lots of places. Poets & Writers Magazine has one of the best-known lists, which you can find in the magazine and at its pw.org website. Writer’s Market has a whole section of contests. Funds for Writers offers lots of contests and other opportunities in its online newsletter. CRWROPPS, Creative Writers Opportunities List, a Yahoo group, sends daily lists of contests and submission calls. If you search for “writing contests,” you’ll find more possibilities than you handle.
Writing contests can be great, but before you enter, consider the pros and cons. Remember, the most important thing is to write. Don’t let contests or anything else take you away from that for too long.
Now go write.