Published: August 7, 2003
|Getting started as a professional writer|
So, you're a writer--or want to be one. You may have started out writing for yourself, but now you think you'd like to take the next step and publish your work. Or maybe you've already seen your writing in print and want to explore new markets or different types of writing.
When you're writing only for your own satisfaction, there are no rules dictating what you can and can't do. You can scribble on the back of a legal pad, scratch a poem on a bar napkin with a leaky ballpoint pen, or hammer out your novel on a dusty old typewriter with an aging ribbon.
But when you decide to write for publication, things change. You can't just toss your wonderful new essay in the mail and hope someone will buy it. You must first find potential markets for your work and determine what kind of material they're looking for. That's Rule No. 1 when writing for publication: Remember that you're writing for someone other than (or in addition to) yourself.
While your essay may be wonderful, it's unlikely to be read if it's printed in crayon--or if it's three times too long. Rule No. 2: Follow the standards for the proper way to approach editors and submit your work. New writers sometimes ignore the basics when it comes to submitting their writing to publishers, assuming that it's only the writing itself that's important. The truth is that even the most stellar work is likely to be ignored when it's submitted to an inappropriate market or is nearly impossible to read.
Finally, there are other aspects to writing for publication--like what editors expect from writers--that new freelancers may be unaware of. Most of them can be summed up by Rule No. 3: Be professional.
Assuming you already have basic writing skills, you needn't have a journalism or English degree to write for publication. You do have to learn about the basics of freelancing and submitting your work. If you dream of taking the next step--and becoming a published writer--read on.
|Before you begin |
Make the commitment
If you're writing for yourself, you can write whenever you feel like it--and skip it when you don't. You may go days, even weeks, without putting a word down on the page, but if you're going to write for publication, you need to make a commitment to yourself. Writing for publication involves more than simply writing. It means spending time researching potential markets, analyzing what they're looking for, preparing work for submission--and oh yeah, writing. It's a time-consuming job and it takes dedication, desire and determination to stick with it.
Decide now when you will spend time to further your goal of having your writing published. Will you write three mornings a week before you go to work? Will you carve out a half-hour each night after dinner? On your calendar or day planner, write down when you'll write--in ink. Treat your writing as you would any other obligation--otherwise, it's likely to end up at the bottom of an already crowded to-do list.
Decide what you want to write
Maybe you already know what you want to write--a children's book, humorous essays, nonfiction articles, the Great American Novel. Then again, you may not be sure of what you want to say. You have all these great ideas, but when you sit down to capture them, they fly right out of your head.
If that's the case, imagine this. You receive word that you've won a weeklong, all-expenses-paid trip to a writer's retreat. Not only that, but if you have children, the conference will pay for the cost of a nanny or house husband to care for them while you're gone. Your partner, your pets, even your plants will all be cared for in your absence. Your place of employment will give you a week's vacation pay, and you'll have no repercussions for taking off to spend a week--an entire week!--writing. (Kind of scary, isn't it?)
Now that time isn't an excuse, what types of writing do you want to explore during this week? How do you want to spend your time? What will you write about? Grab a pen and paper and make a list.
If you're stuck, consider your interests and the things you feel strongly about--you may find subjects that appeal to you there. Think about what you read for pleasure. Often, we want to write the type of work we enjoy reading. Add any other ideas to your list.
Take a look at your list, and choose which type of writing and which subject most appeals to you. It's fine to have more than one writing project going at a time, but if your time is limited, you also need to decide which one is more important to you and work on that first. If appropriate, make a list of your writing priorities.
|Get ready to write and submit|
Act the part
First things first. If you're writing for yourself, you needn't worry about being professional--after all, whom do you need to impress? But when you're writing for publication, you need to consider the impression you make with your approach and your work.
That means not apologizing for your writing. Claim yourself as a freelancer--someone who writes for pay and publication. If you're asked what you do, don't mumble, "Oh, I'm trying to be a writer." "I'm a chiropractor/parent/dentist/ software analyst/fill-in-the-blank and freelance writer" is a much more businesslike, self-assured answer. Be prepared to answer questions about your writing--many people say they want to write (that is, until they realize how much time and effort is involved!)
You may never meet any of your editors in person. That's the good news--you can toil away in pajamas or sweatpants and no one's the wiser! That means, though, that the first impression you make will be through your letterhead, business card or the way you answer your phone.
Is your letterhead professional, simple and free of cutesy drawings or cartoons? If you're a children's author, a childlike design might be appropriate or even eye-catching. Most writers, however, want to present a more polished image. It needn't be fancy or expensive--you can produce a template letterhead with contact information on your computer, or spend a few more dollars for printed letterhead. Matching business cards and preprinted envelopes round out the package.
Your telephone message on your voice mail should also be friendly but brief. If you share a phone line with family members, leave a professional message on your answering machine and teach your kids how to answer the phone. And you should check your voice mail--and e-mail--at least once a day.
Editors expect to be able to reach writers quickly. They also expect you to be professional, resourceful and (hopefully) easy to work with. You'll have a leg up on other writers if you keep these tips in mind:
Be pleasant. Say you write an essay, and an editor buys it. Five months later, when you've practically forgotten about it, she calls and asks you to review the galleys ASAP. Don't whine about the short notice--do them immediately (and graciously) to help make her job easier. An editor trying to close an issue has plenty on her mind already; she wants to work with writers who won't give her a hard time.
Be able to disagree without making it personal. You can argue a point without getting nasty. Your editor's rewritten lead weakens the piece considerably? Remain calm and point out why you're not happy with the new version. You don't have to be a jellyfish, but you can disagree respectfully and thus maintain your relationship.
Deliver what you promise. This goes beyond meeting the deadline. It means that you turn in a story that the editor asked for as closely as you can. If she wants 1,500 words and two sidebars, that's what you write--not 2,500 words, figuring that she will cut it down.
Treat deadlines seriously. If you discover that you're going to need more time to finish a piece (say, one of your critical sources is unavailable until after the piece is due), talk to your editor immediately. Ask for an extension so that she can plan for the late story. The worst thing you can do is to simply not turn it in--and then dodge your editor, who's wondering where the story is.
A room of one's own (or not)
You don't need a separate office when you start freelancing, but you do need a computer (or regular access to one). Twenty years ago, a typewriter and a telephone were all a writer needed--today, editors expect writers to have a computer and e-mail. While the advent of e-mail has made owning a fax machine less important, fax access is still helpful. (If you don't have a fax, use a friend's fax number or a fax at a Kinko's, UPS Store or Office Max.)
You'll also need a way to keep track of your submissions. While there are software programs available for this purpose, a simple notebook system is probably the easiest. Keep track of what you sent out, when, how (i.e., e-mail or snail mail), markets and responses.
When you receive an assignment, make a note of it in your assignment log, and write down the deadline in your calendar or daily planner. That way, you have the deadline noted in two places--using a "double diary" system helps prevent you from missing one.
Finally, when you turn a piece in or an editor notifies you that he wants to purchase rights to it, ask if you need to send an invoice. Some publications require invoices; others will simply put a request for payment through. While software programs like QuickBooks include invoices, a short letter that includes your mailing address and Social Security number can serve as an invoice. Here is a sample:
February 25, 2003 [always include the date]
Re: INVOICE #401 [an invoice number makes it easy to track]
Please let this letter serve as my invoice for $1,275.00 for the rights to "The perfect tan" per written contract of February 5, 2003. My Social Security number is xxx-xx-xxxx.
Thank you very much!
6911 Waterfall Place
Downers Grove, IL 60516
[Note: This invoice was sent via e-mail; otherwise, it would have included the editor's full name, title and mailing address. In addition to the date and invoice number, it sets out the amount of money billed; the title of the piece; the contract date; writer's Social Security number; and writer's name and contact information. If there is no written contract, make sure to state in the invoice what rights are being purchased (such as "reprint rights" or "first North American serial rights")].
Is your writing a business or a hobby?
The fact that you're trying to publish your work and get paid for it rather than writing for yourself can have tax benefits, as well. If your writing is considered a business rather than a hobby, the IRS will allow you to deduct legitimate business deductions--and that means a lower net income at the end of the year, which translates into less out of your pocket and into Uncle Sam's. The key is to have a "profit motive," meaning that you're writing to make money, not just to satisfy your creative muse.
What's a legitimate expense? According to IRS regulations, you can deduct expenses that are both ordinary and necessary. An "ordinary" expense is one that is "common and accepted in your trade or business," and a "necessary" expense is one that is "helpful and appropriate for your trade or business."
Assuming you meet the IRS's standards for writing as a business, you're entitled to take deductions such as:
- Telephone expenses (you can't deduct the cost of your primary phone line, but you can deduct long-distance calls related to your writing, as well as a second business-only phone line)
- Postage and mailing costs
- Office supplies (including paper, printer supplies, computer and peripherals)
- Travel expenses (you can deduct business-related transportation and lodging along with 50 percent of business-related meals)
- Computer used for work and peripherals such as a printer, scanner, and a fax machine
- Subscriptions to writing magazines and the cost of writing-related books
- Fees for attending writer's conferences
Keep receipts for your business expenses, and plan to file a Schedule C at the end of the year. Remember, the more expenses you have, the less you'll pay in taxes.
Want more info? The Tax Guide for Small Businesses (Publication 334) and sections 1, 8 and 13 of Business Expenses (Publication 535) are available at the IRS Web site, www.irs.gov.
Perhaps no concept is as confusing to beginning writers as copyright--what it is, how it's created, and how to protect your own.
What is copyright?
"Copyright" refers to a form of protection provided by U.S. law to the authors of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and other intellectual works. The owner of copyrighted material has the exclusive right to (and the right to authorize others to) reproduce, distribute and display the work.
When is copyright created?
Copyright protection exists from the time the work is created "in fixed form." Once you complete a draft of a poem, novel or article, you automatically own the copyright, and it's yours until you sell or license it to someone else.
What does the copyright symbol do?
Many writers mistakenly believe that you must include a copyright symbol on your work, but the symbol doesn't create copyright. It merely gives notice of the copyright to others who might steal it and defend their actions under the so-called "innocent infringement" doctrine.
Say you write a poem and give it to a friend, sans notice. If your friend relies in good faith on the fact that there's no copyright notice--and distributes your poem to 693 of his closest confidants--he may not be liable for damages and may even be permitted to continue copying the work! The notice required is the copyright symbol, followed by the date the work was first published and the author's name--e.g., (c) 2001, Kelly James-Enger.
Why register your work?
The answer is simple--to be able to effectively protect your copyrights in the future. While you don't have to register your copyright to bring an action for infringement, any infringement that occurs prior to registration will not give rise to attorneys' fees or statutory damages.
That may not seem like a big deal, but attorneys' fees and statutory damages are two of your best remedies in a copyright infringement suit. The fact that you registered your work can be used as evidence that you're the legal copyright owner at trial. Better yet, if you've registered the work within three months of publication and you win an infringement suit, you're entitled to attorneys' fees and statutory damages--a specified amount of money set out by law. If you haven't registered your work within three months, you may still have a cause of action for infringement, but you'll be limited to injunctive relief (meaning that the violator can be prohibited from using your copyrighted work) and/or actual damages--i.e., the amount of money you have lost because of the violator's actions. But proving actual damages can be difficult, especially in the relatively new area of electronic rights.
How do I register my work?
You can register unpublished work at any time; once it's published, you have three months in which to register it. That time period is retroactive, meaning that if you register within those three months, you're protected back to the date of publication. Currently, it costs $30 to register work with the U.S. Copyright Office, but you can include more than one piece of writing on the same application. Published or unpublished work created in the same calendar year can be registered under one application as long as it's grouped together. (For more information about copyright registration procedures, visit the Copyright Office Web site at www.loc.gov/copyright; forms are available at www.loc.gov/
What rights are you selling?
When you create a written work, you own a "bundle of rights," including the right to reproduce and sell the work in every conceivable kind of media. Here's a brief run-down on some of the rights publishers commonly ask for:
First North American serial rights. This is the right to publish the story for the first time in a North American magazine; magazines often purchase first North American serial rights (FNASR) along with other (i.e., electronic) rights.
Electronic rights. The right to publish, disseminate and store your article electronically (such as on a Web site or in an online database). More publishers are insisting on electronic rights, although many writers ask for additional compensation for these rights.
All rights. Just what it sounds like. The publisher buys all rights to the piece; bad news for writers because it prevents you from reselling the story later.
Work for hire. Technically, it means the publisher owns the copyright to the piece, which by definition includes all rights. Again, this is bad news for writers because you're giving up all rights to the story.
Reprint rights. (Also called second rights.) The right to publish an article after it has already been published elsewhere. You can offer reprint or second rights as many times as you like to increase the amount you make from one particular story.
Exclusive rights. Many publishers will ask for exclusive rights to the story for a period of time like 90 days or 6 months. You're prohibited from reprinting or otherwise offering the story to any other publishers during the exclusivity period.
Locate potential markets
Since you're writing for publication, your next step is to determine which markets may be right for your work. This book lists thousands of markets for nonfiction books, novels, short stories, articles, essays and poetry. While reviewing guidelines is helpful, it's no substitute for actually looking at books, magazines, newspapers or Web sites themselves to get a better feel for the kind of material they publish.
The type of market you're pitching to will determine your approach. Here's a quick rundown on potential markets:
Thousands of magazines purchase freelance work. Consumer magazines are those you can find on the newsstands; trade publications are aimed at people in a particular industry or profession and are often available by subscription only. With magazine articles, you usually send a query letter first, and then write the piece after you receive an assignment. (Or an editor may offer to look at the piece "on spec"--on speculation--meaning that he's willing to read it with no guarantees of purchasing it.) Essays and humorous pieces are the exceptions to the rule--with them, you send in the completed work with a brief cover letter introducing it.
Newspapers are a great place for new writers to gather writing experience and gain clips. Most local publications pay modestly (ranging from $5-10 to $125 for features), but they're often looking for freelancers, or "stringers," and it's a good way to hone your reporting and writing skills. Call your local newspaper with a list of story ideas and express your interest in freelancing for the publication. (Ask the editor if she's on deadline before you start your spiel.) She may want you to write about an idea you've pitched or send you out to cover another story.
If you want to publish a novel, you'll want to have the manuscript completed before you start looking for a publisher or agent. (Many larger publishers only want "agented submissions," while smaller publishers are more likely to look at manuscripts sent directly from writers.) Depending on the publisher or agent, you may send a query letter, a query letter with a synopsis or outline, or a synopsis and the first two or three chapters of your manuscript.
With nonfiction books, you usually write a book proposal designed to sell the editor or agent on your idea before you complete the entire manuscript. You may use a query letter and/or the proposal when pitching an editor or agent.
With Web sites, you'll make your approach via e-mail. Depending on the site, you may send a query or the completed manuscript. Many Web sites don't pay for submissions, and many more pay very little, so you may want to make online publishing your last resort.
Writing for businesses gives you a chance to sell your writing and "publish" your work. Unless you have a copywriting background, however, you'll probably want to read up on sales-writing techniques. For example, you'll need to know the difference between a feature and a benefit--and how to write customer-oriented copy--before your take on your first gig.
The Copywriter's Handbook and Secrets of a Freelance Writer: How to Make $85,000 a Year, both by Robert Bly, cover the basics of writing pieces like brochures, ads and sales letters, and include suggestions on marketing your services and running your freelance business. The Well-Fed Writer: Financial Self-Sufficiency as a Freelance Writer in Six Months or Less by Peter Bowerman is another excellent resource.
When looking for potential markets, consider their guidelines. First stop: The Writer's Handbook 2004. Many publishers now have writers' guidelines available online; you can also obtain a copy of guidelines by sending a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) to the magazine or book publisher and requesting them.
Guidelines in hand, you should also consider these factors when analyzing potential markets:
- What type of material do they accept?
- How many words do they want?
- Who is their audience? (This is particularly important with magazines, which tend to have a specific readership in mind.)
- How do they want you to submit material? For example, a nonfiction book publisher may want a book proposal as opposed to a full-length manuscript; a magazine may specifically request query letters, not completed articles.
- What do they pay for material?
- What is their response time?
When you're starting out, keep all your market information in one place. Then you'll have it to refer to when you're preparing your work for submission.
While some magazines will accept completed manuscripts, most prefer query letters. A query introduces your idea, demonstrates why readers of the publication will be interested in the story, outlines how you'll approach the story, and convinces the editor that you're uniquely qualified to write the piece. Note: Many magazines accept queries by e-mail, but if you e-mail a query, include it in the body of the message, not as an attachment.
A sample query appears below. Note that the query:
- Catches the editor's attention with a first-person anecdotal lead in the first two paragraphs.
- Demonstrates why readers of the magazine will be interested in the idea in Paragraph No. 3 by including the fact that 4 out of 5 Americans experience back pain.
- Describes the approach the writer will take with the story, the type of experts that will be interviewed, and a possible sidebar in Paragraph No. 4.
- Demonstrates familiarity with the market (by mentioning the "Physical Health" section of the magazine) and highlights the writer's relevant writing qualifications (and here, the writer's personal experience will bring a unique perspective to the piece).
February 12, 2002
Ms. Erin Eagan
Bally Total Fitness
RB Publishing Inc.
2424 American Lane
Madison, WI 53704
Dear Ms. Eagan:
As a longtime runner, I compete in a half-dozen races every year. Last March, I signed up for one of the first 5Ks of the season. It was a perfect Sunday spring morning, clear, cool and windless, and I was rested, fit and ready to race. Until I pinned on my race number, stretched and bent over to tie my shoe just before the race--and felt a flash of pain streak up my back. I straightened up to discover that running was out of the question--I could barely walk and even a slow jog brought tears to my eyes. My race was over before it had begun.
After spending the rest of the day alternating between ice packs and heating pads, I still hadn't improved. I made an appointment with a sports medicine specialist Monday morning and explained what had happened. "It's not fair!" I cried. "I could see if I was overweight or stressed or was lifting something wrong. But I didn't do anything!"
Yet my doc told me that this kind of injury isn't unusual, even in fit men and women. No matter how healthy you are, a back injury can occur at any time, and more than 80 percent of Americans will experience back pain at least once in their lives. Happily, with the right drugs, rest and gentle stretches--not to mention a few massages--my back is now on the mend. Now I'm determined to not let another back injury sideline me. I'm religiously performing my back exercises and am going to incorporate regular stretching into my routine as well.
"Back to basics: Reduce your risk of injury" will explain why back injuries are so common and describe how readers can avoid them and maintain back flexibility and strength. I'll interview respected physicians and sports medicine experts about prevention and treatment options, including stress reduction techniques (stress appears to contribute to and aggravate back injuries); a possible sidebar might list simple back exercises to do as "preventive maintenance." While I estimate 1,200 words for this story, that's flexible, depending on your needs.
Interested in this topic for your "Physical Health" section? I'm a full-time freelancer who's written about health, fitness and nutrition for magazines including Fitness, Shape, Self, Oxygen, Energy for Women, Redbook, Family Circle, Marie Claire and Woman's Day; clips are enclosed.
Let me know if you have any questions about this story idea; I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Very truly yours,
Magazine cover letter
If you're submitting a completed piece--say an essay, a humorous piece, a poem or an article that's previously been published--a simple cover letter will suffice. You can use a brief lead and include information about where the piece has been published before:
March 19, 1999
Ms. Lynn Varacalli
Editor in Chief
Harris Publications, Inc.
1115 Broadway, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10010
Dear Ms. Varacalli:
So you'd love to lose that last five pounds before summer ... but you can't stick to a diet. Your best friend, on the other hand, gets so stressed at work that she actually forgets to eat lunch. Why? Because what you eat, and why, and when are all heavily influenced by your "eating personality." Want insight into your eating habits? Take the 10-question quiz contained in "What's your eating personality?" for a better understanding of your unique food behavior.
Interested in reprint rights for this story? "What's your eating personality?" was originally published in the March/April 1999 issue of Fit; a copy is enclosed.
Let me know if you're interested in purchasing reprint rights to this story for Woman's Own. Thank you for your time; I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Very truly yours,
Nonfiction book letter
For a nonfiction book, you'll want to describe what makes your book unique, demonstrate that there's a market for it, and mention your relevant qualifications, regardless of whether you're sending it to an agent or an editor. If you can, demonstrate familiarity with the agent or editor's work. Mentioning a book he or she has published or represented or using a referral (if you have one) is a good way to start.
Note that this query:
- Explains why the agent is being contacted.
- Describes the idea behind the book and proves that there's a market for it with relevant statistics.
- Outlines what types of information the book will include.
- Briefly summarizes the writer's unique qualifications.
July 21, 2000
The Sebastian Agency
172 East Sixth Street, Suite 2005
St. Paul, MN 55101
Dear Ms. Harper:
I've heard good things about you from fellow ASJA member Tina Tessina and am writing to query you about a nonfiction book proposal you may be interested in:
Falling in love is the easy part--it's the day-to-day challenges that really put a relationship to the test. But while maintaining a strong, loving bond is difficult for even the most committed couples, those in long-distance relationships face an even greater challenge.
According to recent statistics, at least 1 million Americans currently have commuter marriages and maintain two separate households. Millions more--including the more than 1.3 million men and women in the U.S. armed services--face extended time away from each other because of jobs that require frequent travel. And every fall, as students leave to attend college and graduate school, hundreds of thousands of dating and engaged couples face the prospect of long-distance love as well.
Any couple faced with a long-distance relationship faces a multitude of concerns. Will distance threaten their relationship? How will they maintain intimacy? What kind of financial burden will it cause? How will it affect the couple's future? Is infidelity more likely? What if children are involved? How do they know if this is the right decision? How will they cope with the inevitable stress of being apart?
My book, Make the Heart Grow Fonder: How to Survive--and Thrive in--Your Long-Distance Relationship, will answer all of the questions and concerns that these couples face. Heart will include the experiences of hundreds of long-distance relationship "veterans" as well as expert advice from psychologists and relationship experts. The book will also feature quizzes and activities for couples to use to determine whether a long-distance relationship is a healthy option for their relationship, as well as ways to cope with loneliness and separation, tips on dealing with the financial burden these relationships can cause, and advice for parents who want to maintain a close relationship with their children regardless of physical distance. Heart will also look at the reasons for the growing trend in long-distance relationships and report on recent research on the factors that influence the success and stability of such relationships.
This down-to-earth, anecdote-filled book will be both a source of strength and encouragement as well as a wealth of practical information for the millions of people facing this increasingly common challenge. As a full-time freelance journalist and a veteran of three long-distance relationships, I can bring a unique perspective to this timely subject.
I hope you'll be in interested reviewing my book proposal for Heart--please let me know if I may send it to you immediately. Thank you very much for your time; I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Very truly yours,
Nonfiction book proposal
If an editor or agent is interested in your nonfiction book idea, most will ask to see a completed book proposal. Proposals differ in length and format, but the typical one sets out the premise of the book, provides an outline of the material that will be covered, lists competing titles and explains how your book differs from the competition, offers marketing and promotion ideas, describes your relevant background and experience, and includes one or more sample chapters. The purpose of the proposal is to convince the publisher that the book will sell enough copies for it to make a profit. It will also help you research and organize your material before you begin the book itself.
There are several excellent books to help guide you through the process, including Elizabeth Lyon's Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write: How to Get a Contract and Advance Before Writing your Book and Jeff Herman's Write the Perfect Book Proposal: 10 Proposals That Sold and Why. Before you start on the proposal itself, research the market to see what other titles are available on your subject; for a speedy search, type in some keywords on either www.amazon.com or www.barnesandnoble.com to see how many books you find.
While this will give you a general idea of what's out there, you'll want to read the titles that seem closest to yours. That way, you can briefly describe them and explain how your book is better than/different from these titles; this "competition analysis" is important. Another critical part of the proposal is the marketing/promotion section. What will you, as the author, do to promote and publicize the book once it comes out? Think beyond author signings and media interviews--the more creative you are, the better.
In addition to an outline of the book itself, the proposal should include chapter summaries and at least one complete chapter. The proposal should also have a brief "about the author" section that highlights your relevant experience, and a paragraph describing the format of the book--i.e., number of pages, possible appendixes and the like. If this is your first book, you may also want to include clips with the proposal.
Novel query letter
With book-length fiction, most editors and agents want to see a query letter first. Then they'll ask for a synopsis and sample chapters or the complete manuscript. With a novel query, you want to sell your book idea and give the editor a feel for your writing style. The query below:
- Introduces the "hook" of the book at the beginning of the letter.
- Gives a brief overview of the main characters and the book's plot.
- Explains what type of novel it is and the likely readership.
- Briefly mentions the writer's background.
August 16, 2002
Mr. John Scognamiglio
850 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10022
Dear Mr. Scognamiglio:
Have you ever gotten the Vibe? You know, that feeling when you meet a woman, and you know that you're attracted to each other?
Kate, 28, has based her dating life on the Vibe. If there's a Vibe there, the guy is worth pursuing--it not, forget it. The trouble is that too-beautiful-for-her Andrew just dumped her, and now she can hardly fit into her favorite jeans. And she hates her job, but everyone keeps telling her how great it is to be a lawyer. Yeah, right.
At least she has Tracy, her best friend from law school. Both live in Chicago's up-and-coming Lakeview neighborhood. Tracy is gorgeous, smart, and has a great job, a great apartment, and a great live-in boyfriend, Tom, to go along with it all. She also has an eating disorder she's managed to keep secret from even her closest friend. Tracy doesn't believe in the Vibe--until she experiences it for the first time, and it turns her life upside down.
Will Kate find lasting love, meaningful work, and be able to squeeze back into her clothes? Will Tracy give up the man who loves her to experience sexual fulfillment--and come to grips with what she's doing to her body and her spirit? Did You Get the Vibe? explores the lives of these two best friends as they love, work, diet, laugh and bond over their boyfriends, jobs, diets and sex lives. Readers of women's contemporary fiction will enjoy their stories and relate to their experiences, struggles and insights.
Did You Get the Vibe? is 78,855 words and is my first novel. I've been a full-time freelance journalist for the past five years. My work has appeared in more than 40 magazines including Marie Claire, Woman's Day, Family Circle, Self and Redbook; I'm also a contributing editor at Oxygen, The Writer and For the Bride. My first nonfiction book, Ready, Aim, Specialize! How to Create Your Writing Specialty and Make More Money will be published by The Writer Books in the winter of 2003. I'm also a frequent speaker at writers' conferences, and not surprisingly, a big believer in the Vibe.
Please let me know if you're interested in seeing a synopsis and three chapters or the complete manuscript of Vibe. I'm contacting a handful of editors and agents who I think might be interested in this book, and hope to find a home for it soon.
Thank you very much for your time.
|Surviving as a freelancer |
Now you've been introduced to the basics of submitting work for publication. That's not all there is to it, though. As a freelancer, you'll need to know how to overcome rejection, stay motivated, meet deadlines and overcome writer's anxiety, among other things.
Set your own deadlines
As a new writer, you may not be working on anyone's schedule but your own. However, the time may come when an editor gives you a deadline you'll have to meet. Get used to writing on deadline by setting your own targets for the writing that you're working on. If you're working on a big project, like a book, break it into smaller chunks--say, chapter by chapter--and set deadlines for each one, plus a deadline for completing the whole thing.
Become a sponge
In the same way you want to gather information about potential markets, you want to gather information about the type of writing you're interested in. This book contains articles about a variety of types of writing, but you may find it helpful to read books specifically devoted to craft, and check out The Writer or other magazines dedicated to writing and publishing. You'll improve your own work--and your chances of getting published--in the process.
Trust me, you will get rejected. All writers do. The first step to coping with rejection is expecting it. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't have faith in your work. It does mean that you realize your odds of having work turned down are high, especially if you're a new writer. By remembering that it's normal, you ease its sting.
Second, treat rejections as opportunities. When you receive a rejection--or "bong," as I call them--act immediately. If you have another idea that's right for the market, start your new query or cover letter with language like, "Thank you very much for your response to [the essay or query]. While I'm sorry you can't use it at this time, I have another idea for you to consider;" and mail it to the market. In the meantime, tweak the original query if necessary and resubmit it to another publication or agent. Your work won't sell sitting on your hard drive. You've got to get it out there.
And don't take it personally. Any rejection you receive is only of that particular piece by that particular editor at that particular publisher. It's not a reflection on you or your abilities as a writer. The timing may be wrong, the editor may not care for the idea, or she may already have something similar in the works. A rejection can even be a positive sign if the editor took time to write a personal note like, "Sorry, not quite right for us" or "Nice essay, but we're overstocked." Instead of stewing over why your work was turned down, find another market for it. Taking action is the best way to overcome rejection.
Calm writer's anxiety
Call it writer's block, performance anxiety or plain, old-fashioned self-doubt--every writer suffers from it at one time or another. Anxiety is common, normal and part of the writing process for all of us. When you're beginning work on a piece, some nervousness is normal and to be expected. If you're afraid you don't know enough to write what you intend to write, then you'll naturally be anxious. Maybe you don't have a handle on your subject yet. But if your research is almost complete and you're still too anxious to write, your fear may be due to a number of factors.
Are you afraid to offend someone? Do you continually worry that what you write isn't good enough? That means your internal censor is at work--the nasty little critic that's always telling you that you're not good enough.
Perfectionism is another major source of writing-related anxiety. If you expect your first draft to be perfect, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. Good writing is rewriting--and sometimes rewriting again (and again). Give these techniques a try next time you're feeling anxious, stuck or blocked:
Schedule your writing. Having a regular writing habit works for nearly everyone. You'll start training your brain to turn on and get creative every morning at 6 a.m. or each night at 9 p.m. Instead of worrying about when you'll write, you simply stick to the schedule.
Just do it. Sometimes you just need to write. You can't write and have angst at the same time.
Switch gears. Do something different--vacuum, walk, read, do a crossword puzzle. Or write something else for a while.
Break it up. When an assignment appears overwhelming, you're likely to feel anxious. Break the work up into smaller steps--conducting research, doing interviews, transcribing notes, writing a draft, and so on--and focus on one step at a time.
Move your body. Nothing conquers a writer's anxiety like physical exercise. Take brief movement breaks away from the computer, even if it's only five minutes to get up, stretch and take some deep breaths. You'll feel calmer and more able to focus on your work.
Be gentle. Writers are often their own harshest critics. Be nice to yourself. If you picture an audience for your work, think of someone who gets it--your best friend, spouse or someone who thinks like you do.
Writing is a solitary activity, but that doesn't mean you have to go it alone. In fact, hooking up with other writers can help you find new markets for your work, improve your chances of publication, and stay motivated through the tough times. If you have friends who write, you can ask for help with a particularly tricky lead or use them as a sounding board for story ideas. You also have someone to share the inevitable ups (you got the assignment!) and downs (after three months, the publisher turned down your book proposal) of freelancing.
Your freelancing friends can also introduce you to markets you may not have considered for your work. No matter how many hours you devote to market research, you can't keep up on all the magazines, newspapers and Web sites that might be interested in your work. Sharing information with other writers about possible markets can give you the inside track into netting assignments. So where do you find your fellow writers?
Check with your local library or bookstore. Many have writers' groups already in place; if not, offer to help create one.
Go back to school. Community colleges and universities offer a variety of writing-related classes. Look for workshop-type classes that will give you a chance to get to know your fellow students.
Go online. There's a number of e-mail lists, bulletin boards and newsgroups where you can meet other writers and share information. Do a www.google.com search or go to http://freelancewrite.about.com/careers/
freelancewrite/cs/newsgroupslists/index.htm for a list of links.
Join up. Consider joining a writer's organization like the National Writers' Union (www.nwu.org) or Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (http://www.scbwi.org/), or attend a writers' conference (check out the calendar at writermag.com or the directory at http://writing.shawguides.com to search for conferences and workshops). You'll meet writers who share your interests, hone your skills, and learn more about the publishing process, as well.
Writing well is a demanding job, and sending out work and getting published, even tougher. The writers who succeed are resilient, dedicated and more than a bit stubborn. Those qualities will help you survive the ups and downs of freelancing.
One of the most effective ways to stay motivated is to set two types of goals for your writing. Set an outcome goal and then design production goals to get you there. An outcome goal is often what you're striving for in terms of publishing your work. It might be "I'll publish my work in a national magazine" or "I'll write and sell my novel." A production goal, on the other hand, is a small, measurable, specific goal that will help you reach your overall or outcome goal--like "I will send out three queries each month" or "I will write for 30 minutes every day."
When you're writing for publication, you need both. The production goals, although seemingly minor, will help keep you on target to reach your overall or outcome goals. They also give you a way to track your progress. After six months of working on your novel, for example, you may not have achieved your goal of publishing it (yet), but you will have met your production goals of writing every day. That kind of success helps keep you on track--while making you a better writer and improving your chance of getting published in the process.
Take the next step
You may feel nervous, maybe even terrified, the first time you mail off an essay or hit "send" to e-mail an article query. That's normal. Remember, though, that to become a published writer, you have to take the first step and actually submit work to a publication. Chances are slim that you'll run into an editor at the grocery store, who, after staring at you for several minutes, will approach you with the words, "You appear to be a writer of some talent. Would you like to write for me?" You might laugh at the idea, but many writers secretly hope that they won't have to make the effort to publish their work. They'll know someone, or meet someone who knows someone (who knows someone) and magically be "discovered."
Hey, you can be discovered, but it won't be in the grocery, dry cleaners, or even the bookstore. You'll be discovered by making yourself visible--by honing your writing skills, researching the best markets for your work, and getting your work in front of editors. There's no mystery to how unpublished writers become published writers--it simply takes time, work and a refusal to give up. But the reward of seeing your first byline (and your 10th, and your 50th) makes it well worth it.
Reprinted from The Writer's Handbook 2004.
--Posted Aug. 7, 2003