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20 Tips for Breaking into Print Publications Today

Print Publications Still Rock for Writers

Even for writers who’re doing well online, print publications retain their allure. There’s something about seeing your byline in print that remains uniquely validating for many writers.

There’s also a popular belief that print publications pay more, which can be true, though there are also great-paying online markets and print publishers who pay squat. Certainly, if you’re writing for $20 an article online, many print publications will pay more. Most of my print articles in recent years have paid $300-$1,500 and up.

In case you think physical magazines are a dying breed, here are some statistics from the Magazine Publishers of America’s 2010/11 Magazine Handbook: Despite the downturn, magazine readership grew in every age category including 18 year-olds from 2005-2009. More than 90 percent of American adults report they read magazines, and the figure is slightly higher for adults under 35. Yes, circulation is currently down a bit — to only 347 million magazine copies sold in 2009. To sum up, print publications are still very viable markets for freelance writers.

Several writers asked for more information on cracking print publications in our recent get-acquainted post. So here is a primer on making the leap from writing online blogs, articles, and Web content to being published in print publications:

  1. Conquer your insecurity. A lot of online writers seem to have serious insecurity issues about tackling print. Intimidated? Get over it. I am a college dropout, and I’ve even written a couple of articles for the Wall Street Journal. You can learn this. If you think your insecurity stems from lack of knowledge of magazine- or print-article writing, then take a class, read a book, find a mentor…and learn more about it.
  2. Discover the wide world of print. When many writers think of print publications, visions of Vogue, Vanity Fair and other super-popular newsstand favorites tend to dance in their heads. But consumer magazines are just one part of the enormous world of print. Know that big-circulation, national magazines are not your likely starting point in print, and find other print opportunities. There are regional magazines, local newspapers, trade magazines, company magazines, college alumni magazines, charity and professional association magazines…right on down to the newsletter published by a local condominium complex. Many of these less-well-known print niches pay surprisingly well, too. New magazines also keep being born that have no established writer pool. Somewhere in there is a publication where you could get an assignment.
  3. Identify likely targets. To start, concentrate on a subject you know well, where you can make a strong case that you bring unique skills to the assignment. That really ups your chances. Then, find relevant regional or local publications that need that expertise. Your initial goal is simply to get some print clips — anywhere — so you can use them to pitch bigger, better-paying print markets. You can start discovering publications that use freelance writers by looking at The Writer’s Market, at Media Bistro’s guides, at Wooden Horse’s database, or at the markets in Writer’s Weekly.
  4. Get the best online clips you can. While you’re trolling for print markets that might hire you, try to write the strongest material you can online. There are opportunities to write reported stories on some of the major Web sites, and these could also serve as good clips for transitioning to print.
  5. Realize print and online are merging. While you’re dreaming about breaking into print publications, know that many print publications are dreaming about migrating to the Web in order to monetize their content with ads, seminars, books and more. The line between print and online magazines is increasingly blurry. The business-to-business magazine auditing firm BPA Worldwide recently reported 480 titles in this genre alone now sell online subscriptions. If you have strong online experience, you may be able to get started with a print publication’s online site. Many print pubs also commission online exclusive articles or are looking for experienced bloggers, so don’t be shy about plugging your expertise in these areas. Once you’re in that door, you can just ask your online editor to introduce you to the folks on the print side — or they may be one and the same.
  6. Have lots of ideas. You’re likely going to need to send many query letters before you get a “yes,” so you need to develop a long list of potential story ideas. Often, you’ll get a response to a query from an editor that essentially says (either straight-out or between the lines), “You seem professional, but I don’t like this idea. You could pitch me again.” So be ready to follow up with more story ideas. If you’re short of ideas, visit this Copyblogger post or this post on WM Freelance Writers Connection.
  7. Write reported articles on your blog. If you can’t find anywhere else to do it, pretend you are a print publication. Create a fully reported feature article of 1,000-1,200 words or so, and simply post it as one of your blog entries. If you’re new to interviewing, learn how to do it — it’s an essential skill you will need to succeed in print.
  8. Study the publication – hard. This is the step so many writers skip — and then they can’t understand why they’re not getting assignments. The most important thing an editor wants to learn in your query is that you understand their publication, tone and audience. Get your hands on multiple copies of this publication, either physical or online. Read their writer’s guidelines and treat them as gospel. Read their editorial calendar to see what special sections might be coming up. Note bylines to identify freelance-written sections of the pub. Many publications have guidelines and calendars online now, so there’s no excuse. Build this knowledge into your query, as in, “I saw you have a special issue on home design coming up and thought this idea might be a fit,” or “I have an idea for your ‘Passages’ column.”
  9. Strengthen your query skills. If you haven’t sent query letters in the past, know that this is a special little art form all its own. Learn how to avoid common query mistakes here. If you need more, see that handy Amazon sidebar on the right for a couple of good books on the topic.
  10. Reach out in social media. Increasingly, I find editors are accessible through social media, whether print or online. A quick tweet about whether you could pitch them a topic is the right approach for some. Give it a try if you see an editor you want is active on Twitter, for instance.
  11. Do in-person networking. I have many editors at in-person networking events over the past several years. Get to know other writers at events, too — the cool ones will introduce you to their editors if they think you’re right for one of their pubs.
  12. Join writer groups. Don’t soldier on alone in your quest to break into print, when there are many organizations that could help you. I’ve done great with both MediaBistro and Society of Professional Journalists events personally, and also known many people who swear by the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE) and the Journalism and Women Symposium. These groups hold teleclasses, in-person events, and offer online courses, and often editors are speakers.
  13. Use the job ads. One of my favorite techniques for connecting with editors is to scan the job ads on LinkedIn for interesting publications looking for staff writers. An open position means articles aren’t getting written, and they might need freelancers to fill in. Their job ad usually gives you an editor name and contact, too.
  14. Find the right editor. A tour of the masthead: Executive editors or editors-in-chief are too high up. Managing editor, articles editor or just plain editor is about right. Associate or assistant editor might also work. Get the right person’s name — it’s not hard with the Internet. Hopefully you have some online writer networks you can tap to help you, too. Try to avoid sending a pitch to “editor.”
  15. Pitch and repitch. Once you’ve developed a story idea and taken the time to craft a query, keep it circulating. You can pitch simultaneously to any market that doesn’t share an audience with the others you’ve queried.
  16. Multipitch. I personally have had a lot of success pitching two or three story ideas in a single query. Each idea is presented in a tight, single paragraph. While some editors don’t go for this, I’ve found overall it ups your odds that you’re putting an idea in front of an editor that they want.
  17. Kill on your assignment. When you get an assignment, hammer out all the details before you begin, including article length, due date, payment amount and terms. Ask how many sources they expect in the story, and of what type. Find out if the publication covers expenses such as long-distance calls or travel (though increasingly few do anymore). If your story idea evolves as you interview sources, let your editor know immediately, so you can agree on a new direction. Finally, study the publication again for style and tone and then write, rewrite, polish, and proofread the daylights out of your story. If the publication requests it, provide complete contact information for all your sources.
  18. Handle edits professionally. This part will be new to some who’ve been writing mostly their own blog, but publications will often want changes to your story. Sometimes, lots of changes, or even additional interviews. Smile and make those changes, especially when you’re new. They’ll usually make your story a better fit for that market’s audience. Remember, you’re here to learn so you can move up to bigger and better-paying print pubs.
  19. Pitch when you turn in. The whole point of pitching queries and connecting with editors is to establish an ongoing relationship with them, not to write one, single article. This is where you leverage your query time and make it all worthwhile. Once a publication likes you, you might get multiple assignments from them monthly. The best time to hit an editor with more ideas is right after you turn in a story — on time, of course. Ride the wave of goodwill straight to your next assignment.
  20. Persist. Breaking into print can take a while. Have a variety of entry- to mid-level print publications you’re targeting. If it’s not working, seek feedback from more experienced print writers. If an editor doesn’t flat-out say, “Don’t pitch us anymore,” keep sending more ideas if you think you’re a fit for that publication. If necessary, go back to #9. Keep going until you’ve achieved your goal: A byline you can cut out and paste in your scrapbook.

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Photo via Flickr user goddess of chocolate

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7 Networking Tips for Cowards

Networking for Cowardly WritersDoes the idea of going to a live networking event make your stomach queasy and your palms greasy? We’re going to solve that problem right here, with some tips on how you can use in-person networking to grow your writing business, even if you’re petrified of meeting people face-to-face, hate crowds, or have full-on social anxiety.

Breathe into a paper bag if you need to. OK? Here we go.

First, let me just say that in-person networking is a powerful way to meet people who can connect you to new writing clients. Meeting live humans cannot be beat for this (take that, social media!). Even if you aren’t a social butterfly, I highly recommend giving in-person networking a serious try.

I attended one conference-and-networking event last month and met two magazine editors, one of whom pays $1 a word. My experience is far more prospective clients advertising online are looking for writers to work for slave wages, while people who network in person seem to usually offer a fair wage. To sum up: It’s really worth learning how to do in-person networking.

I’ll tell you a little secret about networking — once you get the hang of it, it’s actually fun. No, I’m not joking. You get to leave your cave, have a drink, laugh, and make new friends. It’s a chance to be open to the possibility of making a new connection that could change your whole writing career. And we should all be open to that.

How can you get started in networking, overcome your fears, and make it pay off? Here are my tips:

  1. Start slow. Don’t have any goals for your first event except to go, smile at people, walk around, and listen. Don’t feel any pressure to accomplish anything. Just tune your radar in and observe what goes on. Now, that wasn’t too hard, was it?
  2. Try different events. I recently took my husband to a Linked:Seattle meetup with more than 200 people. He hated it. “Too overwhelming, too much noise, too crowded, too snobby, too intimidating,” he reported. He later tried a local networking group where just a dozen or two people meet for breakfast on Fridays. He loves it, has made great friends and connections, and goes every week. There are breakfast groups, walk-and-talks, groups that meet in art galleries. There are networking groups that welcome all comers, and the kind where you pay a membership fee and they only admit one person per industry. Keep looking until you find the place where you feel comfortable and get quality leads.
  3. Grow your network. It’s called networking because the point is to grow your network — to increase the number of people who know about your business. I think what makes a lot of people nervous about networking is the idea of asking people for work. But good networkers don’t do that. Finding clients grows naturally from the main task of expanding your circle. It’s a lot less intimidating when you think your goal at a networking event is simply to make new friends.
  4. Serve others. The most successful networkers help the people in their network by referring them prospective clients. Make your main goal to get acquainted with people you meet at networking events. Rather than worrying about burnishing a pushy, salesy “elevator speech,” just ask everyone you meet what they do. They’ll be thrilled to tell you. If you know anyone who might need their product or service, let them know you’ll refer them. That’s what it’s all about.
  5. Know yourself. Many writers have expressed anxiety to me that they “don’t know what to say” when people ask what they do. If this is you, come up with a statement before you arrive at a networking event. You’ll only have a minute or two to convey your essence to each person, so keep it simple and concise. For instance, I usually say I’m a freelance writer and blogger for both publications and corporations, looking for markets that need ongoing writing help. Defining your ideal client in your statement is a great way to help people remember you and what you’re seeking. Practice your spiel with friends to build confidence.
  6. Give something away. One icebreaker at networking events is to make some sort of special offer to event attendees. It could be a discount, promotional product handout, or free hour of consulting, but whatever it is will help you stand out from the crowd. Ideally, print up fliers or special business cards to hand out that have the offer. That’ll give you something to say.
  7. Follow up. Meeting someone at a networking event is an opportunity to begin a relationship. Take those business cards home and send an email, connect on LinkedIn, send them an interesting article, or set a time to meet for coffee. Create a followup schedule and stay in touch. I’ve had prospects I knew a year or more before they finally gave me a gig.

Have more questions about networking? Leave a comment below and tell us about it.

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Photo via Flickr user Matt from London

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If at First Your Query Letter Doesn’t Succeed

Query Letters Are The KeyBy Carol Tice

Today, a story of persistence in querying:
I got a recent email from a business editor I regularly pitch. I had sent her a query about mobile payments back in April.

The project it was intended for apparently had gone dormant for a while, and now it was back on track. Six months later, they wanted to assign it for $500.

That set my personal record for length of time an editor sat on my query before greenlighting it! I was excited to get this assignment, since at that point I’d forgotten all about it, so it was like found money.

But the funny thing was, my first thought was: They’re lucky this pitch is still around and unassigned.

Why? Because I am the queen of repitching. I pitch, I don’t get a response…on that query goes to the next market.

I have frequently sent a query to three or four different editors before getting an assignment. The key is to develop a slate of publications that touch on similar topics. For instance, on my list recently are a national business magazine, a national trade magazine for venture capitalists, a trade magazine for restaurant owners, a business Web site, and a corporate blog about business finance.

I might reslant and repitch the same idea to every single one of these, until I get an assignment — or two. Remember, if the markets don’t compete, you’re free to pitch them simultaneously.

Many is the time I’ve retooled one article to become a blog entry for another client. Totally different article, same lump of research. This is one of the ways high-earning writers leverage their time to earn more.

Once you’ve written your pitch, realize its full value by pitching it again. Pitching is a numbers game — send more pitches, and keep repitching existing pitches so that you end up with a steady stream of assignments. As many writers have complained on this blog, it takes a decent amount of time to create a strong query. Once you’ve done that, keep it in circulation until it gets you an assignment.

If query rejection is crushing you, build up your self-esteem. Then, query some more!

If you’re not having success with querying, learn more about it. Querying is its own art form. Getting the hang of it can open a lot of lucrative doors.

This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.

Photo via Flickr user Pink Sherbet Photography

Audition for a Guest Post on Make a Living Writing — Live!

Writers Audition!I’m ready to take this blog to the next level — that is, posting three times a week instead of two. Would you like to help me?

I don’t think there’s any way I can increase my own posts for this blog to more than twice a week right now — I’m ka-slammed with work. When I have extra energy, I’m trying to put it toward guest blogging on major writing Web sites to help draw new visitors to this part of town.

Even if I had the time, I think it would be nice to add some other voices to the blog on a regular basis. I’ve really liked some of the guest posts I had in the past. While there are aspects of freelance writing success I know tons about, there are other areas where I’m nobody’s genius.

So ideally, I’d like to find three or four more bloggers who’d be willing to each post once a month, and who could cover each other if someone is busy. That person could be you!

(Note: Due to feedback below, I have shifted this contest to focus on auditioning for a single guest post rather than an ongoing gig.)

Starting with this post, I’m holding auditions for guest posters here on Make a Living Writing. You’ll audition by posting an idea pitch in the comments below. If I approve your idea, you’ll move ahead and put your proposed blog post in the comments below, too. I’ll give feedback on the post in the comments, and we’ll refine the idea until it’s ready for publication as a post entry.

This will be a “live” audition, which will both help me find great guest bloggers, and hopefully allow readers to learn about what makes a great blog post, all at the same time. (Multitasking is an important success skill for freelancers.) If the guest posts are well-received by readers, I may make the guest slot an ongoing thing — kind of like my regular appearances Thursdays over on WM Freelance Writers Connection.

Before you forge ahead, below are some writers’ guidelines for posting on the Make a Living Writing blog. I’ve recently been approached by several people who didn’t seem to get what this blog is about, who sent me proposed guest posts that were unusable junk. So let me clarify what I’m looking for:

Make a Living Writing provides authoritative, helpful advice that doesn’t pull any punches. I’m seeking posters who can offer straightforward, practical, valuable, no-bull information that’s rooted in personal experience. Concrete examples are encouraged.

Recycling something you saw in a magazine somewhere is not going to cut it.

Some particular areas where I am always looking for guest posts include technical writing, time management, and the technical end of blogging and writers’ Web sites. These are all areas where I’m not particularly knowledgeable.

I prefer posts of about 500 words or less, though a long-list type topic might need more space.

Proof relentlessly. Write concisely. Know AP Style.

Check the popular posts sidebar at right for a sense of what readers like. Also check the comments to this post for more ideas of what readers would like to know.

Be familiar with the topics that have recently been covered on the blog. Propose something different.

Posts should be unique and previously unpublished. You will retain your copyright and may reprint/republish after 30 days.

Compose your post in your WordPress so that it formats well, then we’ll send it over to mine. Please suggest an image and provide credit link information. Once your topic has been approved in the comments below, send me two things: a .txt plain-text version for putting into my WordPress html mode, and a Word doc for easy read-through.

I offer two links in your tagline, plus one more in your byline. Make your tagline short – three lines max.

Have a passion for helping other writers make more money.

Have you got some tips for earning more from freelance writing? If so, post your idea pitch below. One idea per customer, please.

I am not yet in a position to be able to offer pay for guest posts, but if I publish your guest post on this blog, you will receive a free copy of my Make a Living Writing ebook — more than 200 pages of tips and advice on how to break in, move up and earn more in today’s new-media marketplace, and a $36 value.

Best of luck all!

(Note: now that I am closing comments on older posts, send your guest-post ideas to me on email — just click that nice little envelope up at the top of the sidebar.)

Photo via Flickr user cessemi

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10 Reasons Why You’re Bombing in Social Media

Social Media Outlets for Your Writing Business

Social media — is it getting you gigs? If not, let’s take a look at some possible reasons. Social media takes a pretty substantial time investment, so if you’re putting in the time, it darn well better bring you some real business. Or you should send direct-mail letters instead.

Social media is not rocket science. Once you know the basics, you can do this.

I’ve only had a serious focus on social media for a couple of  years, and it’s been delivering solid results all this year. I recently did an analysis of my social-media wins so far in 2010, which included connecting with editors on Twitter and LinkedIn who gave me lucrative assignments and a great guest-post blogging opportunity. Yesterday, another new editor cold-called me after viewing my LinkedIn profile, and I signed a new client who found me on a Google search for writers (in part because of the prominence of my social-media profile pages in search results).

So social media works, if you work it.

Where might you be going wrong in social media? Here are 10 common problems:

  1. You’re unknowable. When I scan daily through the dozens of email notices I get from new Twitter followers, I’m blown away by how many of them have no listed Web site, no photo, and an utterly blank bio. Really, how hard is it to fill that out?
  2. You’re uninteresting. You’re tweeting or updating your LinkedIn status to say you’re at the dentist’s, or going to sleep…or other random stuff that’s useful to no one. Your blog posts are dull and full of typos. Make your posts funny, informative, thought-provoking, or uplifting.
  3. You’re always selling. Every blog entry you write ends with, “So call us today!” Every tweet is about your company, or your clients. Zzzzzz…. Social media is just not about that.
  4. You’re not very social. Even at well-funded companies, I find blogs with no social-media buttons, and company Web sites with no social contacts on the home page. Make it easy for others to spread the word about you, and they will.
  5. You’re mysterious. Do your social-media profiles contain every key word a prospect might search on when they want to hire someone like you? If not, stop hiding from clients and go fix that right now. It might seem retarded to you to put “freelance writer, blogger, journalist, and copywriter,” but those are all different search terms a prospect might use to find me.
  6. You don’t visit. Drop by some of the busiest sites in your industry, and see what they’re writing about. Subscribe to their blogs so you know what’s happening. Now and again, leave a comment on one of their blogs or forums. It’s fairly easy to get known as an authority voice in your industry this way.
  7. You’re not helpful. People ask questions in social media, both across social-media sites and within specific forums and groups. Are you providing answers? It just takes a minute to share something you know, and people truly appreciate and remember it.
  8. You’re not questioning. Social media is a fantastic place to learn, especially about all things new-media and Web. Don’t be afraid of looking dumb. If you don’t know how to put images in blogs or which print-on-demand publisher has the lowest fees, ask and find out.
  9. You’re not a joiner. If you’re not participating in industry-specific groups in social media, you are missing the party. My main hangout is LinkedIn Editors & Writers for building my blog and ebook audience, but I have a half-dozen others as well. There are fewer people in each group than on the whole of LinkedIn, but they’re exactly the people you want to know. I’ve already made some great new friends in groups who I’ve talked to in the 3-D world.
  10. You’re invisible. A little in-person networking where you meet a few of those tweeps live really helps cement those connections and turn them into real relationships. If you can’t get to a big event like BlogWorld — which I can’t manage this year — at least get out locally and meet some of the people you’ve connected to on social media.

If you enjoyed this handy checklist of social-media mistakes, get the Make a Living Writing blog free via email. Don’t miss any tips for earning more from your writing.

Photo via Flickr user webtreats

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6 Self-Confidence Tips for Writers

Nobody is Going to Hand you Freelance Writing Success
by Carol Tice

Do you think you deserve a good writing income? As I browse the writing chat forums, it seems as if many writers don’t think they’re entitled to a decent living from their work.

In short, they’ve got a self-confidence problem.

For instance, this week on About Freelance Writing, Sarah Elisabeth wrote:

The other hang up is how do I know if my writing level is up to a $1 a word? I’m a newbie with a few published credits but lack the confidence that I would qualify to write on that high paying level.

I know that feeling of unqualification well. Since I got into writing prose sort of by accident from songwriting, I walked around with that anxiety for years.

I kept expecting somebody to tap me on the shoulder and say in some kind of snobby-waiter voice, “Excuuuse me, but we’ve noticed you’re not really a freelance writer. You’ll have to leave now.”

Never happened. Writers like to bitch about the economy, the collapse of print publications, the editors who don’t respond to their queries…but they don’t like to face the core truth of their career. All that’s really stopping you from earning $1 a word is you.

If you have self-confidence that you’re a strong writer, you become an unstoppable force. You keep going until you make top dollar.

I recently analyzed my marketing strategies here on WM. I described a success I had calling publications that post full-time job ads and asking if they use freelancers. I found a new, $1-a-word market that way.

“I tried that once and it didn’t work,” one commenter said.

“Oh,” I replied. “I tried that 30 or 40 times, until it worked once.”

What’s the difference in these two marketing approaches? The difference is self-confidence. If you don’t feel self-confident about your writing, what can you do to build yourself up? Here are my tips:

  1. Morning affirmation. My dad taught me to look in the mirror every morning, smile, and say, “Damn, I’m good!” If your dad didn’t, you can start now.
  2. Get a perspective. Are you worried about what people will think of your writing? Back when I was a songwriter I used to get bad stage fright. I’d snap out of it by reminding myself that no matter how my gig went, one billion Chinese could care less. Keep a perspective on the relative importance of any screwup you might make.
  3. Learn more. Often, writers lack self-confidence because deep down, they realize there’s something they don’t know. And they’re trying to fake it without that knowledge. It could be how to write in blog format, or how to get really great quotes from sources, or how to write strong query letters. If you sense your nervousness stems from a knowledge gap, fill it.
  4. Ask: Why not me? I think many writers think “Why me? Why should little old me get to earn six figures from writing?” That’s the wrong question. Why not you? Haven’t you read tons of mediocre novels and how-to books? You’re better than that. You deserve that success, too.
  5. Create a gratitude list. Insecure people tend to dwell on their failings. Instead, dwell on your strengths. Make a list of everything that’s great about you — all the unique assets you have to offer the world. Review as needed to appreciate how special you are.
  6. Look at previous clips. When I was fairly new to writing and had a big, feature story due, I’d always be really nervous. So I’d take out my clip book and look over past articles I had published. I never failed to be uplifted by this. Wow, I wrote all that? Guess I can write this one, too. (Reading your clips online works, too.)
What do you do to build your self-confidence as a writer? Leave a comment and let us know.

This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.

Photo via Flickr user SqueakyMarmot

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