Would you like to earn regular money from your writing? Are you an ‘expert’ at anything? And I do mean, absolutely anything.
Because if you look out there, almost certainly you will find magazines, websites or some other form of publication dedicated to what might be your hobby, your passion, or even your work.
And they all need content.
All you have to know is how to go about providing content that they might want to purchase. It may not bring in much,but it might make a nice little addition to your monthly income. I’m not suggesting you pursue this as a profession (unless you want to, but believe me, it’s hard going), but a bit of extra income never goes amiss, does it?
I make, on average, £100 a month for less than 2 hours work, and I’ve been doing that for close on 20 years now. At times, it’s been double that, and occasionally less, but it keeps trickling in, and I’m not complaining.
So how to go about it?
- Search out magazines and websites relevant to your area of expertise, be it quilt making, fire eating, or breeding goldfish; there will be something out there related to it.
- Take a look at submission details. You’ll often find this somewhere on the contents page on a magazine, or you might need to root around in the site map of a website.
- Don’t panic if you don’t find anything specific; there’s bound to be an editor listed somewhere that you can contact with a polite enquiry.
- Some publications will save you time and effort, stating up front that they either don’t accept outside submissions, or else state terms, including payment usually expressed in £ (or $) per so many words. Some don’t pay at all (or at least, they don’t pay external contributors), so you may wish to discount them. On the other hand, if you are just starting up, building a portfolio of published work can be worth the unpaid time.
- Once you’ve whittled your choices down to those you’d like to submit to, take the time to study the publication in depth.
- What sort of articles do they publish? Who are those pieces aimed at?
- Have they recently published any that are similar to what you have in mind? If so, they are unlikely to be interested in your idea – come up with something fresh, or a fresh angle on an old topic.
- Are there any relevant holidays or special days coming up that you might want to slant a piece towards? DO bear in mind that you probably need to plan at least 4-6 months ahead, as the print industry, at least, does not move fast.
- Having identified the publication/s you think might be interested in your work, contact the relevant editor with a query letter. Make sure you are sending to the right person, and use the correct form of address; these days with internet search engines, there is little excuse for getting this wrong. Alternatively a quick phone call to ascertain the correct person (by name), shouldn’t go amiss.
- Do not write your piece until it has been commissioned. Editors will have their own specific requirements, and you will only be wasting your time if you write a piece before you know what they want.
- Mention how you’ve been reading their publication, and ask if they’d be interested in a piece you think would be of interest to their readers (show you’ve done your homework).
- Say why you are the right person to write this article – credentials might include years of involvement, special prizes you’ve won, etc. Be inventive but not outrageous.
- Briefly outline the piece you have in mind, and the slant you think relevant to their specific readership. If you own photographs that might be used for illustration (and this is a publication that uses such media), offer those too, but only if you own them outright. Some publications will pay extra for photographs – this will probably be mentioned in the submission terms.
- Finish up with a short resume of other places your work can be found. This is why it can be worth writing some unpaid articles first, to get print credits.
- Above all, keep it brief!
- Rinse, and repeat.
You may not get an answer from every publication you query, but if you don’t ask, you won’t get that commission.
You may also get turned down for the specific piece you’ve suggested (they may already have something similar in the works), but be invited to send in something else. Quick – put your thinking cap on and get back to them while your name is fresh in the editor’s mind.
Write your article
Once you have your commission, its back to homework. Study the features in recent copies of the publication and note the style they are written in. They may even provide you with ‘House Style’ notes, but even so, take the time to dissect some already published pieces. Look at:
- Overall style: do pieces all have a similar structure, with similar style/information in opening and closing paragraphs?
- Does the body of the piece use sentences only, or include bullet point or numbered lists?
- How long are the sentences? Take a word count.
- How many sentences in a paragraph?
- If people’s names are used, is it first name, surname, or the entire thing?
- What level of vocabulary is used?
- Are there headings and subheadings?
Now COPY what you’ve just learned.
You should already have agreed a total word count, so map the information out using the house style, and then write your piece.
DO NOT be tempted to change or try to use any style that is markedly different to what you discovered in your analysis – you’ll be wasting your time because, best scenario, you’ll be asked to re-write. More likely, your piece will simply be discarded.
If this is your first piece for a publication, send the piece in with a ‘here is the article you commissioned’ type of subtle reminder in your covering note.
Hit your deadline (or be early). NO excuses. Ever.
If alterations are requested, deal with them by return. You are trying to create a professional impression, assuming you’d like to work with this publication again. Don’t forget, editors move around, and many have long memories for writers who are either good or terrible to work with.
Wait patiently for payment
Payment details should have been discussed/determined at the commissioning stage. Most publications have set time scales for paying contributors, but don’t be overly surprised if they don’t rigorously meet them.
For print publications, the norm is payment after publication. So your piece may have been delivered 3 months before publication, but you will have to wait up to a month after it comes out to be paid for your work. Only after that sort of delay should you politely make a query if no money has arrived. In bigger publications, the finance department is totally separate from the editing office, so make sure you are querying the right person.
Writing for websites tends to be faster, but whichever you decide to do, your income will only roll onto an ongoing monthly payment if you keep contributing.
As it says at the top of the page, I am known here as fantasy author Deborah Jay. In the ‘real world’, I am professional horse rider, trainer and judge, Debby Lush.
I began submitting letters (a great way to start) and then short (unpaid) features to local horse magazine and papers 30 years ago. Once I had a few published pieces, I sold a feature to the national magazine ‘HORSE’, (monthly sister to the weekly, ‘Horse and Hound’), which generated more positive reader response than they’d ever previously received for a single article.
More features followed, and then a 12 year tenure as HORSE magazine’s ‘dressage expert’, writing and answering Q&As. I have also contributed International show reports to the US magazine, ‘The Chronicle of the Horse’, and more recently have become a regular feature writer for the website ‘E-Dressage’.
Deb what a fantastic, informative post. Thanks for sharing all the tidbits. This is something I plan on looking into later in the year. My plate is pretty full till summer! 🙂
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Yay! You should find plenty of places to sell letters and features with your wonderfully outgoing slant on life. It isn’t as much fun as writing books, but it brings in more money for the time input, so well worth giving it a go.
My mother requested a home writing course for her 80th birthday, and all through her 80s she sold letters, features and photographs to a wide range of publications, so its never too late to get started.
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Thanks again Deb. Every writer knows we could all sure use the ‘extra’ income, lol. 🙂
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