Freelance lingo in a nutshell
Published: March 26, 2004
|Practiced freelancers toss terms around like a skilled juggler, but to the beginning writer, phrases like "kill fees" and "on spec" and the confusing array of rights can be frustrating and time consuming. Learning basic freelance terms will speed any writer on the way to publication and profits.|
Query vs. cover letter
A query letter pitches your story or article idea to an editor in hopes of an assignment. Query letters save time and energy because you don't write the article until you land a job.
A cover letter accompanies your work. It is a single page with your contact information and maybe a paragraph about the work or your credits.
Clips are your published pieces. The editor wants proof that your writing will fit into her needs. If you haven't been published yet, or your clips do not relate [even remotely] to the subject or market you're querying, send writing samples instead.
Simultaneous vs. multiple submissions
"Simultaneous submissions" refers to one manuscript sent to different markets. Check each publication's guidelines first; many markets will not accept completed pieces simultaneously.
"Multiple submissions" refers to several manuscripts sent to the same market. Shorter works like poems or essays lend themselves to multiple submissions.
What if you have a red-hot idea for an article? Go ahead and send it to several markets. One of them is bound to accept your query.
Magazines typically work three to six months in advance, so there are no unpleasant last-minute surprises. "Lead time" is how far ahead the editors consider queries and submissions. Think seasonally: When you're swimming and camping, editors are thinking about snowmen and cozy fires. When a blizzard howls outside your home, project yourself into the warmth of summer sunshine.
Established markets publish an annual calendar of topics or themes. Familiarizing yourself with the editorial calendar means producing bulls-eye queries and articles targeted exactly to the market's topics. You have a much greater chance of scoring a sale.
If the market doesn't have an editorial calendar, research the archives for recurring themes. Perusing previously published topics reveals the topics, slant and tone of the market.
Payment on acceptance vs. on publication
Read the guidelines carefully! Payment on acceptance means you get paid when your work is accepted, no matter when the magazine plans on publishing it.
Payment on publication means you have to wait until it is published, which could be months later. Bless the editors who pay on acceptance!
This stands for "on speculation." Many magazines want to see the finished article before they decide whether to publish it. It sometimes is the only way to break into a new market, but waiting to hear the decision can be trying.
In the course of your work, you may incur expenses like travel, long distance or cell phone calls, or taking an interview subject out to lunch. You should get approval for necessary expenses when you get the assignment. Reasonable requests are usually accommodated.
No, this isn't a contract for a gangland hit. It is a fee paid if your accepted article is shelved, dropped or "killed." Reputable markets pay a 10 to 50 percent kill fee to help reimburse writers for their time, effort and patience.
Knowing the different kinds of rights may mean bigger bucks and more opportunities for savvy freelancers.
• All If you give up all rights, you cannot publish your work before or after this sale. Never give up all rights unless you are being paid what you deserve.
• First serial This usually refers to rights in a country. For example: First North American Rights (FNAR).
• Electronic Used when a market publishes your work on its Web site. Options include first rights, rights for an exclusive period, or archive rights (to post your work indefinitely).
• Anthology Used when you work is included in an anthology--a collection of similar stories, essays or articles compiled in a book.
• One-time Used when your work has been published elsewhere (one-time rights) and you are free to sell it again.
There are variations and combinations of these rights. It is important to know which rights the market requires, and judge accordingly. Sometimes you can negotiate for better rights--it never hurts to ask.
In accordance with U.S. law, copyright is yours as soon as your work appears on paper. It would be tedious and expensive to register copyright for every scrap of paper you've ever scribbled on, but it can be a wise investment for larger projects like nonfiction books or novels.
As long as you own the copyright, feel free to sell your work again as a reprint. Markets may pay less for reprints, but recycling your work can bring in more money than the original sale.
When I first started writing, I was lost in a fog of freelance terminology. I had to learn the lingo as I went along, and I'm sure I'm still learning. You can get a jump-start on your freelance writing career by understanding the terms now. Then you'll be ready to submit your work, wow the editors and start selling your writing for fame, fortune and fun.
--Posted March 26, 2004
Shaunna Privratsky has written more than 100 stories and articles, and is the author of The Silk Robe and Bypass Blunders, Improve your Prose. She lives in North Dakota. Sign up for her free Writer Within Newsletter at http://shaunna67.tripod.com.