One veteran freelancer's 4 strategies for succeeding with shorts
Published: June 25, 2010
|Many freelancers believe that writing shorts—manuscripts of less than about 600 words—results in a low per-hour income and isn’t worth the time or effort. This need not be the case. I’ve won more than 20 short assignments in the last two years and earned more than $100 per hour for my efforts. I use four strategies in writing nearly all my shorts:|
• Write monthly or quarterly short columns and paid blogs for regular customers. These require little or no querying. The short manuscripts usually are based on my own opinions and experiences and require little, if any, research time. One example is the weekly blog I write for Lab Manager Magazine. Knowing my deadlines months in advance, I can schedule these projects in small time blocks that open up in my schedule. I’ve earned $150 to $350 per hour using this strategy. The writing can go extraordinarily fast. Recently I spent 14 minutes writing a 508-word blog for Lab Manager on globalization issues confronting laboratory managers.
• Choose subjects for which I can rely on previous research I did for longer pieces. Reusing research, even if you have to update it, can save writing time. Indeed, some of the research may never have made it into the original piece in the first place.
• Respin unaccepted queries into short articles or blogs. Since I often write fairly detailed queries, I usually have to do little writing beyond that in the original query.
• Drastically shorten and update old pieces on evergreen subjects and respin them for a different readership. For example, I updated and respun a 1,500-word manuscript originally written in 2000 for Today’s Chemist at Work (now defunct), turning it into a 512-word blog for the American Chemical Society’s website.
Using the latter strategy, I have become good at ruthlessly shortening and rewriting manuscripts. (I described how in The Writer’s April 2006 issue.) To avoid copyright issues, I usually do this for stories for which I only sold first North American rights.
I recently replenished my supply of long (2,500- to 3,000-word) manuscripts to which I own the rights by getting the copyrights back from a magazine that ceased publication. There were 37 of these manuscripts, so I now have a lot of material to work with. Some of these articles were published more than 10 years ago, but with a little updating remain timely today.
These four strategies shorten my writing time. Starting from my query, it took 35 minutes to write this article. However, when I am writing a short in hopes of breaking in and writing longer articles for a new market, I do spend more time writing the manuscript.
Writing shorts lets me use small blocks of time and work in physicians’ waiting rooms, airport coffee shops and airplanes.
Because the strategies reduce research and writing time, you’ll have time to write longer manuscripts, too. The strategies will enable you to get more articles published while earning more-than-adequate hourly fees.
— John K. Borchardt, author of more than 1,400 articles in magazines, newspapers, encyclopedias and online publications.