If you’re nodding your head and moaning, “Oh, yeah, that’s me,” the time might be right to detour into freelance writing. Why? Because a change of scenery can be a welcome relief if the superhighway to publication seems to be leading nowhere.
Seeing our names in print boosts confidence. Working with an editor and being paid for our effort validates us as writers. Freelancing forces us to write tight, stay focused and hook the readers from the first syllable to the last line so an added benefit is that our craft improves.
“Where do I start?” you ask.
Local newspapers always need articles. Write a feature on an interesting travel spot, a person in your church who’s making a difference, perhaps a unique hobby that a friend has turned into a cottage industry. Call or email the editor to see if he’s interested in the piece. Offer to submit the completed article for his review, and be prepared with a backup story if the first idea doesn’t catch his fancy. The pay is usually minimal, but once the editor knows you can produce, he’ll be sure to contact you again.
When writing the article, remember an interesting lead—just like the hooks in our books—draws the reader into the story. Ask the basic questions during the interview, then throw in a surprise or two. Sometimes an unexpected query produces the perfect opening. Be sure to take notes (tape recording the interview is a great backup), and season the story with quotes.
Regional magazines are another excellent market for new freelancers. Most publications provide guidelines upon request, but also read back issues to determine the editorial slant, and pay attention to the ad copy. Anti-aging products signal senior readers while lip-gloss and sparkling nail polish point to a younger distribution. Send a written query with an SASE and tell the editor why her readers will enjoy this particular story. Plan ahead. Seasonal material should be submitted six to nine months in advance.
Just as with full-length fiction, a good rule of thumb is to write what you know. Draw from your daily life and family relationships. “Brat is Beautiful,” a 300-word piece about my nomadic life as a kid raised in a military family, ran as a filler in ARMY magazine.
Humor is a plus. FAMILY bought “Learning to Love Army Life in Exile,” my tongue-in-cheek piece about living in rural Missouri while my hubby was teaching ROTC.
Human interest stories attract readers and editors alike. Pick everyday topics with a unique twist. My son was due to be born on December 19, but the first contraction hit Christmas morn. “In God’s Time,” was an inspirational piece bought and published by OUR SUNDAY VISITOR.
Years later when that same son had a middle-school assignment to “parent” a stuffed animal for a weekend, I wrote, “Boys Can’t be Moms,” which sold to WOMAN’S WORLD.
Fast forward to when he was deployed to Kosovo. Worried about the children in that war-torn country, he asked me to enlist the help of our church to collect outerwear for the children. “Coats for Kosovo” told the story and ran in CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE VOLUNTEER’S SOUL.
Publish a piece, then change the slant and rework the story with a different readership in mind. “Sisterhood” focused on the common bond between Army wives and sold to a military publication. Later, I reworked the idea for Air Force wives and titled it “Legacy.” Both shorts were reprinted in calligraphy on parchment suitable for framing and have been sold to military wives around the world.
A profession or hobby can lead to articles trade journals will be eager to publish. Are you a subject matter expert? Have you tackled problems in the work place? Do you have a hobby or self-learned skill? When I went back to work part-time as a medical technologist, I noticed many of the employees had varying schedules depending on their personal and family needs. That realization led to “Flexing the Clock,” which I sold to ADVANCE FOR ADMINISTRATORS OF THE LABORATORY.
Soon thereafter, the Olympics came to Atlanta, Georgia, where I lived. “Atlanta Hospitals Go For the Glory,” was selected as ADVANCE’S cover article that June. While interviewing the city’s leading medical personnel, I learned of their concern about the diseases foreign travelers could bring to our country. “Emerging Infectious Diseases” ran in July and established the direction of future medical articles, such as “The Rash of Latex Allergies” and “What’s Bugging the United States.”
I served on ADVANCE’s editorial advisory board for twelve years and frequently covered medical conferences with their press credentials, which provided free continuing education opportunities. I rely on that experience now as I write my Magnolia Medical series for Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense, drawing on my past research to weave today’s stories.
Writing for a local ladies’ publication opened an unexpected door when the editor recommended me to the staff of a major women’s magazine for which she did ad copy. Hoping to break in with a unique story, I remembered a woman who collected antique fountain pens. “Treasured Pens from the Past,” started a long and productive relationship with SOUTHERN LADY.
Editors at ADVANCE and SOUTHERN LADY often commented on my willingness to focus my stories on their editorial needs, my acceptance of their suggestions for improvement and my timely submissions--traits fiction editors are looking for as well.
Getting my name in print before my books sold provided invaluable experience, helped me hone my craft and allowed me to appreciate the gifts of each editor with whom I’ve had the privilege of working. My writing improved, and by mentioning my credits in cover letters, New York fiction editors saw me as a professional.
Of course the downside of freelancing was the time involved that took me away from my work-in-progress. But detours lead back to the main road, and in my case, I did reach my destination. Now with three books published in one year and two additional stories under contract, I know freelancing paid off.
Ever feel like you’re spinning your wheels and going nowhere? Turn off the beaten path and head into the freelancing world. You might be surprised where it will take you.
Friend and writer-extraordinaire, Sharon Yanish and I presented a workshop on this topic at the Georgia Romance Writers’ MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS conference a few years ago. I’ve asked Sharon to add her comments today. I hope the Seekers who freelance will share their expertise as well.