Wednesday, May 21, 2008


The road to publication can be long and difficult. Contest submissions fail to final. Manuscripts are rejected. Editors appear insensitive to writers who pound out page after page of prose often with little or no positive feedback. Publication seems an unattainable goal, and many wonder if they’ll ever reach the coveted destination of first sale.

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.


  1. Debby, I'm very impressed with your success with freelance writing. I had no idea how many stories you'd sold! I never took this route, but it sounds like an excellent way to sharpen skills, earn some cash and get that much deserved ego boost writers need. Thanks for your great post! I'm sure you were a big hit at the conference.

  2. Learning the craft of writing is the fun part. Learning the business is the tough part. I love writing in a fit of imagination, and I even enjoy the edit process as I see ways to enhance the reader's experience of my vision. But the business part makes me crazy.
    Debby, you do a great job of showing how life itself opens up writing opportunities. Seeing opportunity and using it to make both money and reputation is the essence of business success. Without business success, we are all simply starving artists. I would never have seen work in a medical lab as the foundation for successful novel writing. Now I need to back up and think how my experiences on IT projects, which rise and fall on people's character traits more than on technology, might provide flavor for both articles and novels. Thanks for a great post.

  3. Wow, Deb, I knew you did some freelancing in your past, but truly no idea how impressive your career span was!! Excellent post.

    Writing is writing and I think ALL of it helps to prepare one for publication as a novelist. I never wrote freelance, but worked part-time as a travel writer, which helped me to fine-tune and hone my writing skills on a daily basis, even though I never got byline credit. Freelance would be even better, though, because you get to see your name in print over and over again, which I think would be a true boost in confidence, not to mention your resume!


  4. This is absolutely fantastic advice.
    I call it 'short form' writing.
    It's a simple way to build a writer's resume. And, when you're pitching a story to an editor and show her your one sheet or resume and it's got NOTHING, then someone else comes and and says, "I've got a regular weekly column in the local paper."
    They just passed you in the interest they can generate from an editor.
    Debby's got really impressive credits. Mine weren't as cool, but I had a weekly book review column in my hometown paper, a small town weekly. Smaller newspapers are usually desperate for content. It might be hard to get a column in the New York Times, but in the Lyons Mirror-Sun all you gotta do is ask.
    I was editor of my church newsletter...this isn't a tough job to get, they were BEGGING for help.
    I got some Sunday School Christmas Programs published. They were all ready written...for years...before it occured to me to submit them. You might have some writing all ready done because of your life and your bend for writing that you've never considered subbing.
    It's all part of building a resume and if you've got even a few things published, you put yourself ahead of the pack.
    Like contest success, short form writing gives you an edge in a tough business.

  5. Great point, Debby. And it looks like you were very successful at this! Me, not so much. I've tried several times to get my newspaper to let me write something. They never even reply to my query letters! They once published an article I wrote, but didn't pay me. I also get really frustrated when I write something, targeting a certain magazine, and then they reject it. So I've pretty much given up on freelancing. I'm very tenacious when it comes to trying to get my novels published, but not so much with the freelancing. Although I did get two short stories and an article published while I was taking the Institute for Children's Literature course. It is a huge confidence builder to see your name in a byline and to actually have someone PAY you for some silly story you wrote! That was the way I felt, anyway. I was amazed.

  6. I was a reported for 10 years but I don't know if my experience is past its sell-by date by now. Do you all suppose it's still a good resume stuffer?

    Since then I've sold devotionals off and on to Evangel, a weekly take-home paper that churches often put in the bulletin. It's listed at the ACFW website under writing opportunities, I believe. I don't get ideas for those kinds of short subjects very often but do try to take good care of them.

    Resume-wise, I thought that would show I can write coherently about my faith.

    I hesitate to become a stringer for the local papers because a lot of the events -- especially school board and town board meetings -- take place in the evening. The odd hours for me would take away too much family time.

    My other free lance job, as a soft-ware tester, made me go cross-eyed and I promised myself I would never do that again!

  7. Hi Ladies,
    I had a Bible study class this morning and only now returned home. Thanks to all the early birds who have already posted comments!

    Katherine, I had to smile when I read your comment about business sense--an area where I always feel deficient. But you are right that writing opportunities seemed to appear time and again for me with one door opening another. At one point, I had to weigh whether I wanted to follow a freelance career or continue to try to publish full-length fiction. With a little reflection, I soon realized that, while I enjoyed freelancing, the desire of my heart was to publish a book.

    And yes, your IT projects can be worked into your fiction writing!

  8. Hi Janet! You're right about the positive aspects of publishing an article, especially the ego boost. Often all we see are rejections when it comes to full-length fiction. Having our name in print -- be it filler or feature article -- validates us as writers and provides the encouragement we need to continue working on the book of our heart.

  9. Julie, I bet you had to be concise with your travel writing, and we all know that tight writing usually means better writing. No wonder I love your stories!

  10. Thanks, Mary, for sharing the ways you broke into print. You're so right about local papers looking for features .. . even being desperate for submissions as you mentioned. Weren't you savvy to combine a love for reading with a weekly column the editor wanted to publish. An added plus was you became an accomplished reviewer!

    Working on the church bulletin was another win-win!

  11. Hi Melanie!
    Sounds like you've got great credits with your published short stories and article. Congrats!

    Don't know why the newspaper editor didn't bite, although local papers are usually understaffed and overworked. Maybe he didn't have time to send you a reply. If you're still interested in breaking into that market, try submitting a completed feature and offer it pro bono. Since he published one of your articles, I'm sure he'd be interested in more of your work. And remember, you don't have to be paid to mention your credits in your resume or cover letter.

    (I hope you had a wonderful conference last weekend, Melanie. Missy Tippens and I drove to Huntsville, AL, and had a great time at the Heart of Dixie Readers' Luncheon! Maybe we can meet you there next year.)

  12. Debby, you might not remember this, but you had given me so much advice right before you sold. It helped me SO much when I got close to selling.

    Once I sold, I felt like God put you there to kind of be a Beacon so I could see what was coming down the pike next as far as the business side of things, especially since you'd sold to the same publisher.

    So all that to say that you have such a gentle way about you as far as wisdom. I'm really glad you teach in workshops and also share with those of us a little bit behind you on the journey. Thank you!

    This post was great! I also had no idea about all of your articles and freelance stuff. Wow!


  13. LOL! I just remembered something! Once I sold, I immediately felt thrust into another a different planet where they spoke an alien language or something.

    HERS and AFS and Option Clauses and oh boy!

    I sent out a plea, asking what an artifact sheet was and why would my editor want an artifact sheet from me...and I can't recall if it was you...maybe not...who clued me in that I might have heard Melissa wrong on the phone.

    She had told me to start thinking about the themes of my book and stuff because the next step would be for her to have me fill out an artifact sheet. I couldn't imagine why. I was writing contemporaries not historicals. I didn't have any artifact stuff in my books.

    Then you or someone else giving me advice at the time clued me in that she'd probably said Art. Fact. Sheet. Not artifact sheet. LOLOLOL! I'd forgotten about that until my last post. Something sparked the memory. Too funny. How embarrassing.

  14. Ann, writing experiece is writing experience no matter when you published. By all means, include your credits in your cover letter. The editors will know you can deliver on time and create a story that sells!

  15. Cheryl, your ears were probably burning on Friday! I told Missy as we were driving to Huntsville that you and I met at RWA right before I sold. Remember we sat in one of the workshops and instantly hit it off since we were both targeting Steeple Hill! We exchanged business cards and have kept in touch ever since! I'm so glad we're writing for the same house. It's great to have a friend in the trenches! :)

    Artifact or Art Fact Sheet? That's about the way I felt when I had to fill one out for my first book. Thanks, Missy, for your great post on Monday that cleared up some of the confusion about the AFS.

  16. Wonderful advice! I've been thinking of doing that very thing.


  17. Fantastic, Hope! Good luck and keep us posted!

  18. Cheryl, I love your Artifact sheet story. :-) I may have known how to pronounce it, but had little idea what the AFS involved. I'm still learning.

  19. I always plan to get the AFS done early and never succeed! It's always a last minute rush to get the info the editor needs.

    Some how I never had that problem when I was freelancing! :)

  20. I always typed Bill's letters for him at work because I was the only one who could read his writing, and added a bunch of stuff to them because he had two sentences. They still talk about it today, twenty years later.

    Does this count?


  21. Hey, Pam, with all your big awards, you don't need freelance credits! :)

    So how many Golden Hearts do you have?

  22. Hey, where's our food today?

    Let's see...I've got some socials crackers and some marshmallow creme. Try it. I dare you.

    Then report back here!

    Anyhoo, while you're fighting over the jar of marshmallow creme, I've published a few nostalgic essays, but I take it by spurts. I've usually got one or two small subs out there.

    Gracious, I've had a couple out to Chicken Soup and Cup of Comfort for several years now! lol

    Off to cook some REAL food.

  23. Debby,

    Great post!! I attended the workshop you and Sharon gave and loved it. I never did get the nerve to send out anything though! I can't tell you how nervous I got just sending off info on my launch booksigning. As I sent the emails to two pretty good size newspapers in nearby communities, my heart was pounding (espcially since I was having email troubles at the time and kept having to re-send. I was afraid it would go through multiple times!).

    My local paper ended up doing a really nice write-up with my photo. Maybe now that I've gotten past that first hurdle, I'll have to nerve to send something else.


  24. Pam, no food since Ruthy sick. Thanks for the crackers and cream!

    Getting something in the CHICKEN SOUP books is a long, drawn-out process. The stories have to go through so many reviewers, and it ends up about three years from start to finish. I've published in VOLUNTEER'S SOUL and CHRISTIAN SOUL 2, but while they were being considered, I never knew if they'd make the cut.

    Is Cup of Comfort about the same?

  25. I also meant to say I've read a couple of Debby's articles. They were excellent!

    Debby, when you did the articles for Southern Lady, did they send out a photographer, or did you do your own?


  26. Missy, that brings up another point about freelancing. Once you submit to newspapers, you're more apt to get a story in when your own book sells. If I have something special I want in the paper, I'll write up the article and submit it with a photo. That way, the editor can run the piece without having to tie up one of his writers. So far it's worked.

    BTW, editors like photos that show people in action. And don't forget to include a caption for the photo. Make it easy on the editor to improve your chances of being published.

  27. The first article I did for SOUTHERN LADY featured the antique pens. Since I was new and wanted to make a good impression, I drove the lady who owned the pens and her collection to Birmingham for a full-day photo shoot. A long drive but worth the effort. I got to know the editor -- who became a dear friend -- plus I got to know the art department.

    Sometimes I would submit photos for their use. Sometimes I shipped objects to the magazine so the art dept could photograph them on site. When I wrote an article about a specialty ribbon and bow and jewelry shop in Atlanta, they came over for a photo shoot and let me decide which items should be photographed and who should be in the pictures. For one article about a Women's Reading Group, I contacted a local photographer and they hired him to attend the women's meeting with me and take the photos.

    SOUTHERN LADY has beautiful art, and it was always a joy to work with them.

  28. Wonderful, wonderful post!

    Writing articles on writing has paid off for me in both initial sales and reprints.

    Read some of my articles here (especially the R's of Writing):

    No, I haven't made enough money on these types of articles to support my fiction writing - I still have to work full time, but I enjoy getting off the beaten path from time-to-time.

    Don't forget another great thing is short stories!

    Many publishers like The Wild Rose Press publish and sell them and the author makes a few $$ in royalties. :-)

    Again, GREAT post!

  29. Hi Pamela,
    Wow! You've got a great lineup of articles! Tell us a little more about AC, if you don't mind. Can someone set up their own space and post articles or do you have to join the group . . . or be invited to join?

    I lived in Leesville, LA, and Fort Polk, not far from Lake Charles! Love that great seafood, especially shrimp, from the LA shore!

  30. Thanks, ladies, for a great day in Seekerville! Stop by tomorrow for more blog fun!

    Wishing you abundant blessings!

  31. Hi Debby, Sorry I couldn't get to the computer sooner. I'm in California so imagine you're already tucked into bed. Lucky you. Taking care of a five year old has made me really feel my age. ha ha

    Great advice on the freelancing. I did a lot of that when I first started writing and it does give you a boost. There are so many rejections you become in danger of believing you can't write when in fact there are a million reasons we get rejected and some of those have nothing to do with our writing.

    Well thanks again. Sandra

  32. Great post, Deb. Printing this one up as soon as I get home.

    Checking in from Philadelphia, PA.

  33. Is Cup of Comfort about the same?

    Yes, I think so, but I don't think the delay is as long, and you usually have the same editor to work with.

    With CS, you never know if you're supposed to email the editor you communicated to last year...or someone else!

  34. Hi Debby!

    No invite necessary to join Associated Content. What I like the most about them is that they usually pay an upfront payment of $4 - $6 (that's what I've gotten to date) for the article and then you get paid per click so nearly every month I get a few $$...again it may be only $3 or $4 a month but it's steady and all from articles I've sold before!

    Just go to the site and sign up and publish your articles non-exclusive - which allows them to pay you and you to keep reselling them.

    Good luck!


  35. Hi Debby,
    I'd love to feature this post for the Carnival of Christian Writers over at Writer Interrupted on Monday. Let me know if that is ok with you.
    Thank you,
    Carla Gade
    carnivalcw at

  36. Hi Everyone,
    I stopped by again today and found some more comments! Sorry I turned in so early . . . okay, my time it was about 10:30 pm.

    Thanks to everyone who added their expertise about freelancing -- so many talented writers!

  37. Very true. I wrote for my local newspaper and it was my editor who told me I should write a book. Well, hungry bookworm that I am, I'd never thought about writing fiction as a career. Sure, I'd written stories, articles, and a journal. But a book? If I ever sell, I'm going to send him (Mr. editor) a copy of my inspirational romance, lol.
    But you're so right! Writing articles required me to learn how to cut extra words and get to the point. And how to try to hook a reader.
    Anyhow, thanks for the great post!

  38. Hi debby, This is my first visit here, and I'm glad yours was my first pick of the carnival. You have some great ideas! Now if only I could find the self discipline to follow through on some of them.

  39. Thanks for participating in the Carnival of Christian Writers!
    Great article!

  40. Hi, Deborah and Carla. So glad you stopped by!

    Missy :)