AUTO Content - Adventures in Freelancing
Adventures In Freelancing
Beating Convenience Store Syndrome
By Jenna Glatzer
Many new writers suffer from a nasty malady known as C.S.S. (Convenience Store Syndrome). They assume that it's necessary to get published in the magazines they see at their local 7-11 in order to make a living as a freelance writer.
This myth must be debunked! There are thousands and thousands of smaller magazines, newspapers, and websites in need of good freelancers. While the glory may not be as great, there is money to be made and credits to be earned by tapping into these markets.
With the explosion of the Internet, there are more writing opportunities than ever, and simple methods to finding them.
First, you can search through the listings at www.writersdigest.com, a supplement to the Writer's Market series. You'll find hundreds of market listings, along with contact information and writer's guidelines. Equally handy are sites like this one, which offer job listings. Typing "writers guidelines" or "writers wanted" at any major search engine will keep you busily surfing for hours.
Why start small?
Before you make the leap to full-time freelancing, you'll need to learn the ropes. Do you know proper protocol for source sheets, model release forms, invoices, expense reimbursement, contracts, rights, etc.? If the answer to any of these is "no," then it's a good idea to get your feet wet with smaller publications, which can offer more hand-holding, feedback, and will tolerate a few mistakes.
Second, if you expect to break into bigger markets, you need clips. Don't expect to approach "Cosmopolitan" empty-handed, offering only your enthusiasm and promises of professionalism. If you can get your work printed in a few small publications, you now have credibility and a reputation to build upon.
Why stay small?
Once you've got a fairly well-established career, why would one want to continue writing for small publications? Simple.
It offers you the chance to specialize. Let's say you have a strong interest in fishing. The chances of you placing an article about "the best lures for striped bass" in a major national magazine are pretty slim. However, there are literally hundreds of trade magazines, local papers, websites, and small-to-mid-sized magazines devoted entirely to fishing. Find them.
It offers you the chance to resell. Especially when dealing with regional publications, you can offer very specific rights-for example, "First rights in the state of New York." This way, you can offer someone else first rights in Denver, first electronic rights, etc. Smaller publications (with smaller budgets) are more likely to accept reprints, and because audience overlap is low, you are likely to sell the same article again and again to different small publications.
Regular assignments. You may be lucky enough to place a piece in a major magazine, but what are the chances that they'll pick you up as a regular contributor? Since fewer writers apply for positions in smaller publications, it is easier to build a relationship with an editor and attain regular columns or assignments. It's also easier to get a query accepted in the first place if an editor only has five of them on her desk, versus five hundred.
Ability for growth. The editor of "Omaha's Prettiest Cats" today could be the editor at "Good Housekeeping" tomorrow. Write every piece well and on time, and she'll remember you. Build your contacts now, and you'll have a better chance of riding their coattails later.
Less pressure. Sure, a deadline is always stressful, but you tell me-how much sleep would you lose the night before your article about romantic tips for Valentine's Day is due for the local singles paper versus the night before you have to turn in your investigative report about stock market fraud for "Time?" You have more opportunities to choose your own article ideas and slants if you work with smaller publications. You also have more editorial control, meaning that you'll often see your words printed exactly as you wrote them, rather than slaving over tons of rewrites and then finding that you don't recognize what appears in the magazine (after going through department editors, copy-editors, and the editor-in-chief).
Trade-offs. Because they don't pay as much, many smaller publications are willing to offer you other perks-bylines, links to your website, free subscriptions, etc. In a business built on networking, never underestimate the power of a good byline. You never know who happens to be reading that little magazine.
More variety. When you work on a major national piece, it's very likely that you'll spend weeks-or months-of your time working on a single article. Sure, the pay is good, but for the easily bored, it's not ideal. On the other hand, if you write for smaller publications, you must turn out a bigger volume of material to make a decent income. In that bigger volume comes more opportunity for variety. You can opt to write short articles for several different markets and audiences, meaning that your job stays new and exciting every day.
Don't let C.S.S. strike you. Keep yourself open to all possibilities, and remember to actively seek out small markets. Lots of writers, including myself, earn a living selling their handiwork to publications you've probably never heard of. Aggressively seek out lesser-known markets, and you might just find yourself in a publishing boon.
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Jenna Glatzer is the Editor-in-Chief of Absolute Write (www.absolutewrite.com), a big website for all writers. She is also a full-time writer with hundreds of national and online credits, including Woman's World, Salon.com, and Writer's Digest.. She is the author of The More Than Any Human Being Needs To Know About Freelance Writing Workbook (available at http://www.absolutewrite.com/workbook.htm). Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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