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.
- 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’:
- Gender and age range
- Marital status
- Occupations and income levels
- Education levels
- Social group
- Moral, political, religious outlooks
- Main likes and dislikes
Look at several articles in one magazine, or several articles in several issues of the same magazine, to determine:
- Technique used in most opening paragraphs.
- Average number of words per article.
- Average number of words per sentence.
- Average length of paragraphs.
- Vocabulary – informal, academic, slang, jargon, colloquial
- Simple or complex sentences.
- The extent adjectives and adverbs are used.
- The extent of descriptive passages.
- Proportion of narrative and quotes.
- Proportion of subjective passages (feelings/emotions) and objective passages (facts/data).
- Technique used in most concluding paragraphs.
- What is the mission of most articles? (educate, entertain, titillate, amuse, persuade, etc.)
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
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).
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.
__ 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”.
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.”
- What rumor about the business of writing turned out to be false?
- 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.
- 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.)”
- What would you tell a beginner about writing for pay?
- 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.”
When 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.