Tools for Breaking into the Freelance Market

Beth Fowler headshot

If I can do it, you can. Here’s how I’ve broken into the world of getting published & paid.

Freelance writers are not employed on a publication’s staff. Freelancers work on a job-by-job basis and get paid for each project.

Below are writers’ tools and advice from editors to help you open the doors to the freelance market.

 

Contents:

  • Analyzing Magazine and Newspaper “House Style”
  • Submission Guidelines
  • Query Letter    
  • Query Letter Checklist
  • Manuscript Checklist
  • Publishing Business Terms
  • Editors’ Advice for Writers

 Analyzing Magazine and Newspaper “House Style”

 Look at a publication’s table of contents, illustrations and advertisements to determine the targeted readers’:

 

  1. Gender and age range
  2. Marital status
  3. Occupations and income levels
  4. Education levels
  5. Social group
  6. Moral, political, religious outlooks
  7. Main likes and dislikes

Look at several articles in one magazine, or several articles in several issues of the same magazine, to determine:

 

  1. Technique used in most opening paragraphs.
  2. Average number of words per article.
  3. Average number of words per sentence.
  4. Average length of paragraphs.
  5. Vocabulary – informal, academic, slang, jargon, colloquial
  6. Simple or complex sentences.
  7. The extent adjectives and adverbs are used.
  8. The extent of descriptive passages.
  9. Proportion of narrative and quotes.
  10. Proportion of subjective passages (feelings/emotions) and objective passages (facts/data).
  11. Technique used in most concluding paragraphs.
  12. What is the mission of most articles? (educate, entertain, titillate, amuse, persuade, etc.)

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Submission Guidelines

Always study the submission (or writers’) guidelines before sending a query or article to an editor. Here is an example of guidelines.

THE SATURDAY EVENING POST Guidelines for Submitting Work Writers & Cartoonists

Before submitting work to The Saturday Evening Post, please take the time to read our guidelines for writers

Before sending us a manuscript or query, we hope you will look over past issues of the Post to get an idea of the range and style of articles we publish. You will discover that our main emphasis is health and fitness. Although there are many specialty publications in this field, the Post‘s goal is to remain unique by presenting not only cutting-edge news but by combining this with information of practical use to our readers.

Major freelance contributions in recent years include: “Hats On For Health: A Skin-Cancer Warning from Down Under,” about the advanced skin-cancer-prevention program in Australia, and “Munchausen by Proxy: The Deadly Game,” about a little-understood but prevalent psychological disorder that can be devastating to children.

In addition to health-related articles, the Post buys humor and anecdotes suitable for “Post Scripts,” as well as cartoons, illustrations, and photos. Payment ranges from $15 for Post Scripts to $25-$400 for most feature articles.

Our nonfiction needs include how-to, useful articles on gardening, pet care and training, financial planning, and subjects of interest to a family-oriented readership. For nonfiction articles, indicate any special qualifications you have for writing about the subject, especially for technical or scientific material. Include one or two published clips with your query. We prefer typed manuscripts between 2,500 and 3,000 words in length. We generally buy all rights.

Although we seldom publish new fiction, our readers enjoy upbeat stories that stress traditional relationships and family values. A light, humorous touch is appreciated. We are also always in need of straight humor articles. Make us laugh and we’ll buy it.

We respond quickly to queries, normally within three weeks. If you do send the whole manuscript, either (1) include a sufficiently stamped and sized SASE for its return should we decide not to use it; or (2) indicate you do not want the material returned and include an SASE with appropriate postage for a reply. Please send typed, double-spaced copy. We normally respond to manuscript submissions within six weeks. You are free to submit the article simultaneously elsewhere.

Feature articles average about 2,000 words. We like positive, fresh angles to Post articles, and we ask that they be thoroughly researched.

Please submit all medical/fitness articles to Cory SerVaas M.D.; travel queries and articles to Holly Miller, Travel Editor; fiction to Fiction Editor; and Post Scripts to Steve Pettinga.

1100 Waterway Blvd. Indianapolis, IN 46202 (317) 634-1100

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Query Letter

 

Note: This emailed query letter was successful. You may use it as model for your projects. Snail mailed queries should include your telephone number, email address and a pre-addressed, stamped return envelope.

Dear Jean Ann Duckworth:

I benefit from reading Simple Joy and was especially happy to see an article by my friend Rekha. I believe that an article about breathing would support Simple Joy’s purpose.

We all breathe, but do we breathe properly?

Once we’re aware of our breathing patterns, we can improve them instantly.ghuū Women who breathe properly report that they feel “calm, poised, energized, a general well-being, centered, alert, relaxed, open” and similar positive sensations.

Does that sound like a miracle? Because God is in every breath, the benefits of proper breathing are miraculous.

I’d like to share what I’ve learned about breathing with Simple Joy readers. This proposed 1500- to 2000-word feature article (one time rights) will:

 

  • Explain physical and emotional hindrances to proper breathing
  • Guide readers through a breath awareness questionnaire
  • Review the breath’s path through the body
  • Include several easy, effective breathing exercises
  • List hobbies and sports that improve one’s breathing as a side benefiProvide surprising facts and additional resources.

I can write the article for the general interest issues or slant it as a December (holidays) stress buster. Earning an instructor’s diploma to teach Qi Gong (or Chi Kung, it’s Chinese for “skill with breath”), speaking to women’s groups on “Better Breathing Means Better Living,” my research on the topic and my firsthand experience in improving my breathing give me the background I need to write credibly and convincingly.Magazines that have published my works dealing with improving the quality of one’s life include, but aren’t limited to Daily Meditations, Evolving Woman, The Phoenix, New Vegetarian and Natural Health (Australia), Woman at Work (Malaysia), and Her Business (New Zealand).

Sincerely,

Beth Fowler

 

 

Query Letter Checklist

__ Return address – your name, address, phone number, fax and email address.

__ Address to proper editor, spell name correctly.

__ One-page letter (two if absolutely necessary) of 3 – 4 paragraphs.

__ Letter is concise, polished, courteous, written in business format, yet “human”.

__ Check spelling and grammar. (Donut really on word processor’s spill chick.)

__ SASE large enough with postage for reply or a contract!

__ Queries – business-size SASE for agent’s or editor’s response.

Manuscript Checklist

__ Follow writers/submission guidelines.

­­__ 12p font, Times New Roman, double spaced on 8 ½ x 11, one side only.

__ Proofread for spelling and grammar. (Due note rely on computer spell Chuck.)

__ Capitalize first letter of first word, and rest of words unless small (to, of, in) in chapt titles.

__ Approx 1 inch margins all around.

__ No italics. Underline instead.

__ No handwritten corrections.

__ Mag/newspaper manuscripts: Top left corner – 1st p single-space name, address, tel, fax, mobile, email. Mr/Miss/Mrs if first name is unisex. Top right corner – word count, rights offered, dept or column if applies. Drop down ½ way. Center title, By and name. Every p thereafter: Top left corners – last name & keyword of title. Top right corners – p number. Follow the submission guidelines if they differ from this.

­­__ Book ms: Title p with title, address, wc. Every p thereafter: Top left corners – last name & keyword of title. Top right corners – p number. New p for new chapt, drop down 1/3 –1/4.

­­__ End at end.

__ No                                                                                                  “widows”.
***

Publishing Business Terms

ADVANCE: $ pub pays author for book under contract, i.e. ½ paid at signing, ½ at delivery of final ms. Author doesn’t receive more $ until proceeds ($ales) exceed amount of advance.

BACKLIST: books from previous seasons still in print.

COMMISSION: advance payment from publisher to author asked (commissioned) to write something

COPYRIGHT: designates ownership of work. Most pubs © in author’s name, so when work goes out of print rights revert to author who may resell ms to another publisher.

COVER LETTER: accompanies solicited ms sent to agent or publisher.

FLAT FEE: “work-for-hire.” Lump sum for work. No royalties.

FRONTLIST: books published in current season and in publisher’s current catalogue.

INSTITUTIONAL SALES: books sold to schools/libraries, roughly 25% of kids lit is bought by libraries.

MASS MARKET: “rack-sized”, paperbacks smaller than trade paperbacks, usually different cover than hardcover edition, and cheaper.

MASS MARKET PUBLISHERS: companies that produce large quantities of paperbacks inexpensively, titles follow trends that fit markets – tie-ins with movies, TV characters and toys. Sell high volume in short time.

NET PRICE: “wholesale price”, $ pub receives from each book sale after discounts given to bookstores/buyers. Some pubs base author’s royalty on net price.

PROPOSAL: document author sends to agent/pub describing proposed book, length, audience, table of contents, chapt outline, first 3 chapts, competing titles, ways to market book, author’s credentials.

QUERY LETTER: letter author writes seeking permission to send ms to agent/pub.

RETAIL PRICE: cover price on book. Most big pubs pay royalties based on cover price.

ROYALTIES: 3-15% of proceeds from the sale of each copy of book.

SASE: self-addressed stamped envelope

SELF PUBLISH: Author pays for publication. Companies offer different levels of service. Authors must do a lot of marketing themselves.

SUBSIDIARY RIGHTS: pub/agent sells book to foreign pubs, mags, movie studios. If pub sells rights, $ split with author (usually 50/50). If agent sells rights, author keeps proceeds minus agent’s commission.

SUBSIDY PUBLISHER: “vanity publisher”, pubs that charge authors $$$$$ to publish ms. Avoid.

TRADE PAPERBACK: bound with heavy paper, usually same size and cover art as hardback, cheaper.

TRIM SIZE: outer dimensions of book.

UNSOLICITED MANUSCRIPTS: ms sent to pubs who didn’t request them. Often rejected, languish in “slush pile”.

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Editors’ Advice for Writers

 

 

Beginning writers know that they’ll get bylines without bucks from time to time, free copies of magazines in which their works appear, and a few dollars here and there. No pay and low pay are typical during the apprenticeship phase of writing.

 

Following the advice of paid writers representing nearly 200 years’ experience can advance your career and compensation to the next phase.

 

Q: What separates paid, published writers from wanna-bes?

 

A: Discipline, persistence, hard work and the ability to “get back up on the horse” were common responses from the interviewed writers. Francesca Kelly, Tales from a Small Planet editor (www.talesmag.com), says, “You don’t have to have brilliant talent to be published, but you DO have to have incredible persistence.”

 

Lucy Clark, prolific medical romance writer for Harlequin Mills & Boon (http://www.eharlequin.com.au), is the personification of persistence. “I received the contract for my first book the same day I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. Life happens! It’s hectic. It’s busy, but if we don’t make time for the things that are important to us, we might have regrets later on. I now have two adorable children who commandeer most of my time. I don’t have time for writers’ block. I don’t have time to waste. My stories have to be planned, the research done, so when I sit down, I can build up word count. There’s no such thing as writer’s block – just lack of planning.”

 

  1. What rumor about the business of writing turned out to be false?

 

  1. Arlene Uslander, editor of The Simple Touch of Fate (www.uslander.net) which has one of my stories in it, discovered three falsehoods on the road to publication. “Once you have a book published, it’s easier to have the next book published and that when you send out a manuscript, no news is good news. And that having an agent accept your work means you’re going to get published.” Not true. Not true. Not true.

 

Karen Rose Smith (www.karenrosesmith.com) is a fulltime author with about 40 books to her credit. She sold her first book in 1991. “I thought after I sold the first few books, life would become easier! That’s not necessarily true.  After ten books, I remember being stalled and not selling for about ten months.”

 

Francesca believed that editors were unapproachable. “They’re usually really nice people who are just overworked.” She should know. She’s an approachable and no doubt overworked editor.

 

  1. What advice do you wish you’d received (or heeded) sooner?

 

Karen Rose Smith learned to “Write to the market. Study the line you want to write for.”

 

Studying the magazine she wanted to write for had a lot to do with an editor accepting one of Francesca’s articles. Being published in Redbook was a “sudden breakthrough” for her.

 

“It’s not enough that you have something to say,” is freelance editor and author Karen Schmitt’s advice. “You have to make yourself understood – connect.”

 

“Rejection isn’t personal,” counsels Megan Hart, an author whose been paid to write for decades. “They’re not rejecting you, they’re rejecting the work.”

 

“ ‘To be a successful writer, you must write every day,’ ” recalls editor, Dan Case. “I heard this a lot, but really didn’t believe it. When I read Stephen King’s book, On Writing, and he said ‘write every day,’ I believed it. (Hey, if the King of all writers says it, it must be true.)”

 

  1. What would you tell a beginner about writing for pay?

 

  1. Writers’ answers ranged from “Don’t write for pay. Write because you love it,” to “Don’t write for FREE!”

 

Lynn Wasnak, a freelance writer for 25 years, explains that fulltime freelancers urge beginners not to write for free or too cheaply because it allows editors to lower the going rate. Go to https://www.writersmarket.com/assets/pdf/How_Much_Should_I_Charge.pdf.

 

As for me, I do the writing because I love it. I donate some works to organizations where I volunteer. Otherwise, I sell my work for dollars.

 

And so can you!

 

***

By Beth Fowler, author of the beloved coming-of-age novel “Ken’s War.”

Visit https://www.facebook.com/kenswar.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQjZBjqFNzs&feature=youtu.be

 ken's war coverWhen teen rebellion & culture shock collide. Shop here: Ken’s War

Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award- winning author of YA books.

 

 

 

9 Ways to Hang Onto Your Writing Money

Beth Fowler headshotRetain Rights – Your agent (or you) should negotiate to retain as many rights as possible. Learn more at http://www.authorsguild.org/member-benefits/legal-services/improving-your-book-contract/

Join the Club — Compare prices for office supplies. Sam’s Club, for example, (http://www.samsclub.com) has good deals. Plus, Sam’s Club Business Member cards are cheaper than other categories of Sam’s memberships.

Be Thrifty — Buy notebooks and other supplies at thrift stores. Thrift shops and second-hand goods stores supply what’s donated and typically won’t restock it, so when you see something you might need, buy it.

Read Already Read Books ­— Search online at www.allbookstores.com, www.alibris.com, amazon.com and in bricks ‘n’ mortar secondhand stores for print books costing a fraction of new ones.

Deduct — “Every year the IRS discovers millions of mistakes on tax forms,” writes Leslie Haggin Geary, of CNN. In some cases taxpayers fail to claim all the deductions to which they’re entitled. My accountant advises recording writing-related expenses as well as income. Expenses for me include miles traveled to lead a writing workshop and printer ink.

Pay Zilch to Get Agents — Agents get paid when they sell your book.

Donate — Donate books and other stuff you don’t need to recognized charities. Ask for receipts. Visit www.irs.gov and find answers to FAQs donors have in Publication 526, Charitable Contributions and Publication 561, Determining the Value of Donated Property.

Avoid Unscrupulous Vanity Publishers – Visit http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/vanity/ for info on vanity publishers and their ilk.

Swoop – Pluck coins off the sidewalk. Money is money. “I did notice I found pennies every time I was working on my book, or doing any kind of writing, or doing readings with people,” writes Carla Houle at www.metaphys.com/.

Ship it Media Mail — According to the U. S. Postal Service, special postal rates are, “Generally used for books (at least eight pages), film, printed music, printed test materials, sound recordings, play scripts, printed educational charts, loose-leaf pages and binders consisting of medical information, and computer-readable media.” My friendly post master tells me that manuscripts shouldn’t be sent via “Media Mail” because they haven’t been published.

Let others call you a cheapskate, a penny pincher, a tightfisted miser. Simply smile and say “Thank you for the compliment,” as you hang on to your writing dollars.

 ***

Article by Beth Fowler, author of the beloved coming-of-age novel “Ken’s War.”

Visit https://www.facebook.com/kenswar.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQjZBjqFNzs&feature=youtu.be

 ken's war coverWhen teen rebellion & culture shock collide. Shop here: Ken’s War

Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award- winning author of YA books.

 

 

 

Before You Write Your Book, Read This

Julie PolandGuest blogger Julie Poland is founder of  SummitHRD and President of the York, PA Chapter of SCORE.  She wrote an e-book, Secret Messages, and self-published the business book Changing Results by Changing Behavior. 

Writing seems to be on a par with networking and speaking engagements right now in popularity – about every other person we talk to has a dream of writing a book.  The process isn’t for everyone, and we’re not even talking about the quality of the writing that you’re capable of producing.  There’s some strategic work that needs to be done at the outset.
A few months ago a panelist in a workshop for would-be writers said, “The only person who should plan to make money writing a book is the person who has already made money writing a book.”  Perhaps this sounds cynical to you.  Perhaps you DO have the new information, the gripping story or the unique twist that will beat the odds.  But you might not – and you need to think about that.  You will invest time, energy, emotion, ego, and some money before you’re through, so in order to go into the project with both eyes open you want to answer a number of questions before you start.

What is your goal for your book?

  • Source of passive income?
  • Marketing tool?
  • Reason for groups to ask you to speak?
  • Credibility builder with prospective clients?

What is your topic or genre?

  • Non-fiction: biography, history, self-help, business, how-to, etc.
  • Fiction: thriller, mystery, humor, romance, historical, etc.

When do you plan to do your writing?

  • Instead of doing other work
  • At night or early in the morning to fit around other responsibilities
  • As fast as possible
  • Over time as information is collected

Are you writing this on your own?

  • By yourself
  • With collaborators
  • Using research
  • With public domain book as foundation

Who will publish it?

  • Mainstream publishing house, with an advance paid to cover costs
  • Vanity publisher
  • Self-published print-on-demand

How will it be marketed?

  • By the publisher
  • Online through Amazon or other avenues
  • By local bookstores and gift shops
  • Given to prospects, not sold (the book itself is not the intended revenue generator)

 Pros & Cons of Self-publishing


One advantage of self-publishing is the control you have over the project.  There is no executive telling you what spin to put on your concept, or mandating a certain length, style, etc.  The flip side of the control issue, though, is that you have responsibility for far more than the writing.  You’ll need an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), cover design, page layout, editing, artwork, recommendations from pre-readers to use for marketing, placement in retail locations, transference into multiple formats like audio, e-reader, and so forth.  When you self-publish you’ll lay out the funds for these pieces as you go along, as opposed to the publishing house route, where the house covers the costs and connects you to the resources.

Vanity publishing means that you’ll go through these steps and deliver your product to a publisher with an order for a certain number of books.  The books will be delivered to you and it will be your responsibility to get them to your desired distribution channels.  The more you order, the lower your cost per book.  But you will lay out a chunk of change in exchange for a stock of books that will last you until  ______?

Print on demand enables you to avoid having a stack of books in your closet or in your garage.  Create Space (a division of Amazon), for instance, enables you to upload your book package.  You approve a proof, they give you your ISBN and place your book on their Amazon site.  You can buy a supply of books at a certain cost if you want to have some on hand, and if somebody orders your book on Amazon, the site handles it and mails you a check later for your cut of the sale.

Parting Thoughts
As in any business venture, there’s a difference between working IN your business and working ON your business.  If you are writing with the intention of making money from it, the actual writing is only part of the equation.  You can choose to be more writing-focused if you outsource the production and marketing to a publisher, but for the most part it’s them choosing you rather than you choosing them.  Your story or concept or writing is going to have to give them a compelling reason to invest in you.

All that being said, if you have something you want to say in a book, make your decisions, plan it out and go for it.