Friday, December 16, 2005

how to get into freelance writing

One of the things I enjoy most each morning is checking my hotmail spam box where emails from all unrecognized addresses end up. A few days ago there was a note from R. (who found me, I’m guessing, via my website). She said: "I am a Christian author looking to get into freelance writing. If you could forward any helpful information I would really appreciate it."

So for R. and anyone else interested, here is a bit about getting into freelance writing.

First, what is freelance writing? Well, it is simply being a self-employed writer. It means that you find your own writing jobs. Writing is your home-based business and what you write is your product. The business of freelance writing entails both creating the product (writing), then seeking and finding buyers or consumers for that product (marketing).

Here is how I got started in this business.

1. I began by enrolling in a course. This was to help me with both aspects of freelance writing – coming up with pieces of salable writing and learning how to market them. This is obviously not necessary for everyone, but it was helpful for me. The course I took promised that by the end of it, I would have at least one manuscript ready for publication. The course also promised to take me through the entire process from idea to submission. I knew that because submitting a manuscript would be an assignment, I would actually be required to do this thing that I would probably never have had the courage to do on my own.

2. I got a market guide. The course I took included their own market guide as part of the materials. The standard Christian market guide is the Sally E. Stuart Christian Writers’ Market Guide - 2005 (it’s updated yearly).

A market guide lists possible markets. The Sally Stuart one contains book and magazine publishers. It also lists periodicals and ezines (in categories such as: Adult / General Markets, Children’s Markets, Daily Devotional Markets, Pastor/Leadership Markets, Women’s Markets etc. ). Each listing gives information like the publication’s web site url, email and surface mail addresses, what they buy as to subject matter and length, if and how much they pay, how to obtain sample copies of the publication, their theme lists and writer’s guidelines, and how to submit.

3. Using my market guide, I ordered samples of children’s periodicals (the market I chose) that interested me. I also kept my eyes open for possible markets when I went to the Christian bookstore and when visiting friends. That’s how I happened on a copy of Keys for Kids - a periodical of children’s devotions produced by The Children’s Bible Hour. I read a few and thought - I bet I could write those.

4. When I got home, I checked out the Keys for Kids listing in my market guide and wrote to them requesting their submission guidelines and a sample copy. (When you do this, include a self-addressed stamped envelope [SASE] with enough postage for returning what you are requesting. Most market guides will tell you how much postage is needed – 1 stamp, 2 stamps etc. Of course these days, you can usually find article/story samples and writer’s submission guidelines online so you can skip this step – although I find it is still eye-opening to see actual hard copies of the publication.)

5. If the publication requires that you query before submitting, write a query letter pitching your idea, and then wait for the go-ahead before writing it. Keys for Kids didn’t require a query; they wanted to see the completed manuscript. (Many children’s publications don’t require queries though a few do. Queries are more common for adult periodicals).

6. Write the piece. Then send it in, formatted in manuscript style and in the way the publication prefers paying close attention to the guidelines. If they accept submissions only by surface mail, send them by surface mail. In that case include an SASE for return of the manuscript and the editor’s reply (rejection?! – most editors will return an acceptance on their own dime, although a few do use your SASE).

7. Keep a record of what you’ve sent out and by when you can expect a reply (this varies from a few weeks to months and the information is usually included in the market guide listing). If you don’t hear back within the stated amount of time, give the editor a week or two of grace, and then follow up with a note (by email or surface mail) as to the status of your submission.

8. If your piece is accepted by a market that ‘pays on acceptance,’ you’ll usually receive the good news with a cheque included in the envelope. If the market ‘pays on publication,’ you’ll have to wait until it actually comes into print before you see the cash. Paying internet markets may pay using some cash-transfer mechanism like PayPal. (I got a reply from the Keys for Kids editor about a month after I submitted the manuscript – with an acceptance note and a cheque.)

9. If your piece is rejected, look for another market for it, tweak the manuscript for that publication (may need to be shortened or lengthened, focus changed – that sort of thing) and send it out again.

10. Keep good records as to which manuscripts are out and where.

(I have designed my own manuscript tracking sheet on which I note the history of where each particular manuscript has been. I keep this in the manuscript’s file folder along with hard copies of the various versions of the piece – unless it is out to someone, in which case I clip the tracking sheet to the current version of the manuscript and that is put in a "Manuscripts-Out" folder till I hear its fate. That way I don’t mistakenly send it out to the same publication twice.)

11. Keep track of your income and expenses for tax purposes.

12. When your piece is published, you’ll probably get a contributor’s copy – a copy of the publication where your writing appears. Keep that on file and begin collecting writing clips – published samples of your work to include with your resume and in your writer’s portfolio.

13. Of course once you’ve sent out your first piece, you’ll be working on and sending out your second and third and fourth and fifth etc. pieces. Because in order to make freelance writing a successful business, you have to continue to work on both aspects (creating the product and marketing it) simultaneously.

To get a daily dose of information and inspiration about Christian writing – freelance and other – visit Terry Whalin’s blog, The Writing Life.


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