Tracking Your Work

tracking your workLet’s say you develop and market one story a week. Before long, you are juggling dozens of articles at various stages of development and sale. If you are not selling reprints of your published articles, then read my blog on Reprints & Rewrites.


You will need a system for tracking the status of your articles. Whether you develop your own method or use a ready-made tracker, these are the items to include:

  • Publisher name and address
  • Publisher/Editor phone number and email
  • Publisher website
  • Date when query was sent and the expected date for reply
  • Reader demographic info
  • Rate & Rights
  • Date of payment


While I prepare a simple chart (for each article) that includes all this information, if you prefer to track all your articles in one place, here are a few ready-made trackers.

Writer’s Database (free)

SAMM (free)

Writer’s Market Tracker ($6 per month, $40 per year)  The Writer’s Market Tracker has 9,000 listings and their listings are detailed, just as in their printed annual book The Writer’s Market. While it is difficult to add publications not in their database, the rest of the tracker is easy to use. They have few newspaper listings.

It is vital to track your submissions, rejections, payments and publications so that you can make the most money from them. The timing of queries for reprints makes the difference between a sale and a miss.


Once your work has been published, you should consider using GOOGLE ALERTS to notify you if a title of your work, or your name pops up on other websites. Search for Google Alerts online. You could have emails sent to you whenever your article’s title appears online. This can help you find websites that “borrow” content without paying you for it. I urge you to set up at least a Google Alert for your name. In case you have a name that matches someone famous or infamous, you can eliminate notifications of the similar name by using a minus sign. For example, a writer named Alan Jackson would not want to get notices about the musician, so in a Google Alert the writer would enter his name as Alan Jackson –music. The minus sign means ‘except for’ music-related.

I found two unauthorized uses of my writing on websites. I sent an invoice to the webmaster of each website. One paid, one took down the article. How easy is that for making money? Another reason to monitor use of your work is to prevent free distribution of something the publisher has paid exclusive right to publish. Fortunately for me, the article that was used online without my permission was used months after the print publication used it and the rights had reverted back to me. Otherwise I would have notified the publisher to take action.

Financially, I track my work by keeping a separate category for my writing income on a software program called Quicken. More than a glorified checking account register, it can be set up so that all income and expenses are categorized the same way your accountant needs stuff categorized for preparing your income taxes. Every deposit is listed by the employer/client and in the notation field I enter the title of the project. You can also track expenses this way, if your publisher reimburses you for expenses like travel, long-distance phone calls, shipping and such.

This blog series is an overview of important things to know when writing for magazines or for a monetized blog. I used my journalism degree to make a living, to support my husband through medical school, and to have fun until I could write novels. Now that my hubby is in practice and we don’t have to live solely on my income, I am focusing on novels and doing less and less magazine work.

If you are considering a career as a freelancer, I urge you to invest in the following books for more in-depth advice from the queen of freelancing—Kelly James-Enger. Her detailed, disciplined approach to writing is a model to follow. Here are a few of her books on freelancing. She also has a book on how to make money as a ghostwriter.

Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money

Ready, Aim, Specialize!: Create Your Own Writing Specialty and Make More Money!

All her books are listed on her Author’s Amazon page:

Working as a writer doesn’t require starving. It takes discipline, flexibility, and creativity. Okay, and a thick skin to handle the rejections. Look at rejections as “no thank you” notices, because that is all they are. If you send queries without doing proper research on the publication, expect rejections. If you miss deadlines or employ sloppy business practices, then yes, you are likely to be a starving artist. But if you treat your writing as a business and take it seriously, you can build a successful career as a freelance writer.

Cheers to you!

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Reprints & Rewrites

reprints and rewritesOkay, so you’ve sold an article to a magazine or newspaper. Now what? When do the rights revert back to you? If you did all that research and writing for a one-time payment, then you are squandering your time. Whatever made your article newsworthy is newsworthy to more than the readership of one publication. Who would be interested in this article and what publications appeal to this demographic?

Two months before the rights revert back to you on a published piece, send out a query to another magazine for this article [to publish as a reprint or a new piece to suit the magazine’s readership].

Two sources of information about magazines to consider: Writer’s Market (an annual publication that lists public and private magazines with contact information), and the listing at ( Look for each magazine’s Writer’s Guidelines or Submissions.

Editors will notify you of their policy regarding reprints. Generally, the larger the magazine, the less likely they are to buy reprints. You can tell the size of the magazine by the number of subscribers they have. However, once you have done the research on an article and topic, you can rewrite the article with a new angle or slant or perspective to suit the next publication.


What topics do they cover? Review a year’s worth of back issues if the publication is a monthly magazine. List the topics they publish and how they were handled. You don’t want to pitch an idea they have recently published unless you offer a remarkably different approach. Get familiar with the tone and length and style of the magazine’s features. You won’t find the same writers in Rolling Stone and the Christian Science Monitor though both publications debate the language used in song lyrics.

Who are their advertisers? Review the advertisements to see which businesses and products appeal to the readership. If your topic or story impacts these particular businesses, then interview an expert from one of the advertisers. If you go to the publication’s website, look for an Advertiser’s Index. Also pay attention to the ads in the publication.

Who are their readers? Magazines often give demographics on their readers in their writer’s guidelines and in their advertising section. They will also describe the magazine’s purpose and targeted readership in their “About Us” section of their website.


Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base celebrated its 40th Anniversary in business in 2003. While this fact might not rock your wings, it was cool news to pilots all over the world. Brown’s has taught more people to fly seaplanes than any other seaplane base or school in the world. Astronauts, celebrities, missionaries, adventurers, and about 500 general aviation pilots per year have learned how to splash and go, earned their Seawings, and told tall tales at Brown’s.

As a writer/pilot, I was asked one December to write up an article on Brown’s anniversary for WaterFlying magazine, the magazine for the Seaplane Pilots Association. While it is a limited readership, it is devout, and worldwide. My article and my photographs appeared in the March issue. You can read it on my website through this link:

So this news is newsworthy for the whole year. Who else might want to read about it? By the end of January I knew my article would appear in the March issue of WaterFlying and the rights would revert back to me by June.

Well, Brown’s uses Piper aircraft, so I queried Pipers magazine in January to see if they were interested. I also queried AOPA magazine, which is the membership publication of 500,000 Airplane Owners and Pilots Association.

Pipers wanted my photographs and my article for its cover story. And wow, they added their own stunning photos of yellow J-3 Cubs on floats landing on sparkling water, which gave my article more appeal. They published it in November. So there is some overlapping readership between WaterFlying and Pipers, but not all seaplanes are Piper aircraft. For the Pipers article, I beefed up the information about the aircraft’s 40 years of reliability and safety at Brown’s Seaplane Base. To read that article, click on this link:

I also published an article on Brown’s as a long-standing business for the local newspaper. Many locals were not aware that they had a seaplane training base in the county, so they were surprised to know it was famous in aviation. While the local newspaper article paid peanuts, it put me in good stead with Brown’s. The positive publicity helped offset the occasional complaint about the noise of the aircraft from lakeside homeowners. The locals tend to whine less about the noise when they consider Jimmy Buffett or Alan Jackson might be in those little yellow planes landing on their lake.

In June, AOPA said they were interested. Alas, Pipers was publishing it in November and contracted for 30 days of rights after publication, so the year would run out before I got my rights back. I had published with AOPA before, so I explained my situation to the editor and gave him the contact information for Brown’s Seaplane Base so one of his staff writers could cover it. The editor was happy he could write about it without fear of poaching my idea and gave me another assignment a month later. Win win.

The income earned from the first three publications paid for the week it took to research, write and take photographs for the article.

Once you become known for a topic, you can become an editor’s go-to person for future stories. As a freelance writer, I could write aviation articles for my local paper as a stringer, or on-call writer. But I would not give them exclusive rights to my work because I want to continue to write for magazines. When writing an article for both local and national publication, the topic can be the same, but the focus changes to suit the readership. For example—What is the impact to the local readers, local laws, local economy? I would interview local sources for local stories; national experts for national stories.

I am also known to various editors as an aviation writer in central Florida, so I get called to cover stories nearby. Every April the second largest general aviation gathering in the US happens in Lakeland, Florida. SUN ‘n FUN is big news in general aviation so for the last two years I have been a stringer for General Aviation News in April.

Having read about this case study, which of these magazines would you choose to publish in?

  • Plane and Pilot Magazine is designed for private pilots and owners of light aircraft. This monthly magazine features articles on new and used aircraft, pilot proficiency, avionics, weather and more. Circulation: 110,140. Buys all rights.
  • AOPA Magazine is a membership publication of The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to general aviation. AOPA has fought to protect the freedom to fly while keeping general aviation safe, fun, and affordable. Circulation: 500,000. Pays on contract, in advance. Buys First North American Serial Rights.

If you publish an article as a reprint, contact the first publisher for wording of the endnote—such as: This article [or portions of this article] previously appeared in the November, 2012 edition of Field & Stream magazine.

This is also known as attribution, when you give credit to the first publisher of your article. If the article is available online in the publication’s archives, then you could also provide a link to the original for the editor of the second publication.

Look back through your personal collection of writings. If you own the rights to them, why not update them and resell them? What was it in the original article that was newsworthy? You can’t make money from the stuff while it sits in your files. Can you put your archives to work? What about follow-up stories? Anniversaries of an event? Change of leadership news?

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Contracts for Writers

contractUsually a magazine buys the right to publish the article for a specific period of time, after which the rights revert back to you. For example: ABC Magazine buys your article on fly-fishing techniques and publishes it in their March issue. In their contract they hold rights for 60 days after publication. So you can resell the article in whole or in part for publication in June, which means you need to query other magazines in March.

Timing of Payment and Publication Date

Ah, but what if ABC Magazine buys the article in January and doesn’t publish it until June? Well, you can’t publish reprints until September. If they sit on your article for six months and they are paying you for First North American Serial Rights until 60 days after publication, then you cannot publish the article elsewhere while it idles on the desk of an editor.

First North American Serial Rights

Basically, this means that the work is original and appearing for the first time anywhere in North America. If you have published an article on your website, blog or other online source that is accessible to anyone without logging in through a password, then the article is considered public and published. However, if only select readers can access your article/blog through subscription or password, then the article would not be considered public and you could sell it to a print publication as original under First North American Serial Rights. The argument is that if the article/blog is available for free, why should anyone pay for it?

International Rights

The rights to publish your article worldwide should be spelled out in the contract. Are you negotiating with a magazine that publishes in other languages? If so, how are they compensating you for the worldwide distribution of your article?

Online or Electronic Rights

The rights to publish or archive your article on a publication’s website or for e-reader devices should be spelled out in the contract. For example: an article I published in Marriage Partnership (circulation 000,000) gave me terrific exposure to readers of Christianity Today. When Marriage Partnership folded, my article stayed on the Christianity Today website. Why would I object to exposure to 2.5 million subscribers? When they asked to keep my article in their archives, I gave permission for free. I had already sold five versions of this article to various aviation magazines, so I had tapped out the market for the article.

After the rights revert back to you, you are free to sell the article to another publication or publications.

Second Serial or Reprint Rights

All or portions of the article have been printed or published before elsewhere so what you are selling is Secondary or reprint rights. Often the second publisher will pay up to half the fee of the previous publication, or their own set fee for reprints. However, if you substantially rewrite the article, say 50 percent of it for the second publisher’s readership, then you could negotiate a higher fee than the straight reprint fee. This is up to the publisher and will be spelled out in the contract.

All Rights

However, there are magazines, like Reader’s Digest, that buy ALL rights forever and anon. This gives Reader’s Digest the right to reprint the article online, and in print, anywhere in the world whenever they please forever, and to change the content. Keep this in mind if you are tempted to sell them an article in your area of expertise. Similar articles that you publish anywhere else could be challenged as infringing on the rights of Reader’s Digest.

Work for Hire

Freelance writing is not the same as writing a work For Hire. In a work for hire, the writer gets paid a one-time fee for producing an article, ghost-writing a novel or preparing a document, such as policies and procedures, or a speech. In a work for hire, the employer or buyer owns the rights to the work. Only the employer or buyer can sell the work for publication or use. The employer has the right to put his name on the work and leave yours off.  Example Work for Hire contract wording:

[Employer] shall own all right, title and interest in and to the Work, and all additions to, deletions from, alterations of or revisions in the Work, and all drafts, notes, concepts, ideas, suggestions and approaches related thereto or contained therein, or other materials developed or furnished by [Employer], and each element and part thereof (collectively, for purposes of this Agreement, the “Properties”).
Without limiting the foregoing, Writer hereby acknowledges that the Work and services hereunder and all results and proceeds thereof, including, without limitation, the Properties are works done under [Employer]’s direction and control and which have been specially ordered or commissioned by [Employer] for use as a contribution to a work to be published and that all such services, results and proceeds shall be considered a work made for hire and [Employer] shall own all right, title and interest therein. Writer hereby acknowledges that [Employer] shall be the owner of the Properties for purposes of copyright and shall own all the rights in and to the copyright of the Properties and only [Employer] shall have the right to copyright the same which [Employer] may do in its name or in the name of its assignee(s). To the extent that the Properties or any materials contained therein or prepared therefore or the copyrights therein do not vest in [Employer] by reason of same being a work made for hire, Writer hereby grants, assigns and transfers to [Employer] all right, title and interest in and to the Properties and all materials contained therein or prepared therefore and the results and proceeds thereof to the extent that Writer has had or will have any right, title or interest therein.
[Employer] shall have the sole and exclusive right throughout the universe in all languages and in perpetuity to use and exploit all or any part of the Properties and all or any part of any material contained therein or prepared therefore, whether or not used therein, in any format or version, by any means and in any media, whether now know or hereafter developed.

Without limiting the foregoing, Writer hereby waives any and all claims that Writer may now or hereafter have with respect to the results and proceeds of the Work.

Indemnification Clause

Watch out for any contract that has an Indemnification Clause. Let’s say you write an article on a controversial subject and someone decides to sue the magazine because of it. An indemnification clause typically means that the writer, not the magazine, will bear the brunt of the legal defense. Do not accept such a responsibility, because there are nutty folks out there who will sue without cause. Even a frivolous lawsuit can quickly become expensive to defend.

National Writers Union

The National Writers Union, an organization representing over 1300 freelance writers, is affiliated with the AFL-CIO. Members of the NWU have access to legal counsel through the organization as one of the benefits of membership. When I last checked, they offered example contracts and advice to their members. Consider joining a large writers association for information on the latest issues on contracts, taxes, marketing, and the other business aspects of writing.

In my experience, magazine editors have been easy to work with and the contracts simple. With one new magazine, the editorial staff had not yet developed a contract for use, so I modeled mine after one used by another, larger magazine.

Kill Fee

A Kill Fee is paid to the writer if the article is not published, but a contract has been signed. There will be times in the career of a freelance writer when the publication they are contracted with stops publishing. If you have a kill fee clause, then you should get paid all or a percentage of the fee you would have been paid for publication. Once in a while a magazine will pay a kill fee to hand off your story to a staff writer to give that writer more time to develop the story or to include it in a special issue. If the magazine goes into bankruptcy, then the kill fee might not get paid.

While this blog does not cover all the aspects of contracts, it gives an overview of the contract and the major points to consider when negotiating as a freelance writer.

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Writing Fillers & Sidebars

Businessman Holding GraphWriting fillers and sidebars can offer quick and plentiful spin-off sales from your research. At 500 words or less, they are concise. When submitting these to magazines or other publications offer bunches of them at a time for the editor to choose from because only the editor knows the upcoming themes and topics for future issues.

Familiarize yourself with the type and number of fillers used by the publication and tailor yours to fit the readership. Many publications list their Editorial Calendar on their websites. Aside from the usual holiday theme issues, magazines often combine articles on a specific topic for an issue. So timing your submission to suit their topic schedule improves your chance of having your fillers and sidebars accepted.

Always include fillers and sidebars with feature articles or news pieces and editors will adore you.

The types of filler categories are: informative, links, and humor. Watch for them in magazines to see how they are used.

Quick news bites and tiny features are a great entry into national magazines. These quick bits in “front-of-book” appear before the longer feature articles in a magazine. They also keep your name in front of the editors. If you continue to offer quality quick bits in your area of expertise, then you could be approached to write a feature article on this topic or area of interest.

As you research a topic you will come across interesting bits of info that don’t merit a full article. Keep a file of these. You never know when your collection will become relevant or trending.


People are attracted to stories by visuals. In photos, always identify individuals in the photo by full name, as they appear from left to right, row by row. Use your original photos only. Do not swap out heads, or blot out things in the photo. The publisher, particularly a news publisher, requires the clean original.

Prepare a permission form and get it signed by people in your photographs so you can use the photo with the article. It will be up to the editor whether or not to use the photo, but if the editor wants to use it, he will probably ask for you to get a permission slip signed. Why chase after someone weeks after you took the photo? The permission slip is also a backup for getting the person’s name spelled correctly. Let the person know that it isn’t up to you whether or not the photograph will be used, it is up to the editor.

If photographs are being used to show steps of a process, be sure to caption them with numbers for each step. They could pass through many hands before they are published.


Informative Fillers and Sidebars:

  • How-to steps, statistics, news bits
  • Evaluations, quizzes, warning signs
  • Tips, advice
  • Historical dates
  • Humor, top-ten lists
  • Odd facts or historical data
  • Charts, graphs, maps
  • Prayers for specific needs
  • Anecdotal examples
  • Book reviews
  • Photographs with captions


  • Resource list
  • Emails
  • Websites, social media sites and connections
  • Mailing addresses
  • Phone numbers for help, toll-free or list by state or major city
  • Helpful books on this topic by experts
  • Agencies, organizations, clubs
  • Scriptures that help
  • Where to get help, support groups, experts, blogs
  • How to help


  • Jokes
  • Anecdotes
  • Lists of funny but true things
  • Original cartoon (do not use any cartoon without the express written consent of the artist and expect to pay for the use of the cartoon)
  • Famous quotations


Filler formats range from creative shapes, colors, cutouts and such. Many offer information that is perennial or evergreen, while others are tied to trends or current events. Taking the same information and targeting it toward different readership groups can make the sidebar or filler even more marketable. Formats:

  1. Bullets, shapes and icons can liven up the bullets
  2. Numbered lists (list items by order of importance or as steps in a process)
  3. Acrostics—ABCs of the subject or topic in which each line item begins with a letter of the alphabet. A is for Accuracy, B is for Brevity, C is for Clarity….
  4. Quiz and the answer key
  5. List of scriptures or famous quotations connected to the topic
  6. List of materials needed or steps to perform
  7. Charts. Compare/contrast, document trend or change. Design a chart or graph if it will dramatize a point accurately.
  8. Prayers. Chapter summaries. Mini devotionals.
  9. Games. Crossword puzzles. Fill in the blank.
  10. Recipes.

Study each publication to see how it uses fillers and sidebars and submit yours to match theirs in style and format.

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Writing an Article or Blog

Writing an article or blog for publication involves selecting a topic, narrowing the topic, gathering research, perhaps interviewing content experts, and then finally writing a draft. Think of each article, essay, or blog as exploring an idea. An idea is a topic or subject combined with an approach or slant. Find the idea that matters to you to pursue and develop. For example, if the theme or topic or subject of your writing is music, then the slant or approach to the topic could be “How to Compose Music with an iPad.”

ideaDevelop a statement that captures your story idea in 25 words. Post this where you can see it to keep your focus. Find the fresh perspective or slant or attitude toward this subject. Target your ideal readership by demographics (age, education, location, income, experiences). Why should this target reader want to read your article?

Develop a headline and subhead.

Write your grabber lead sentence and keep it short, 8 to 15 words. Put the grabber fact or quote first. In journalism, this grabber is called a hook. Yes, as in fishing. You have to hook the reader to get him to read your article. Of all the reading material out there, why should the reader choose yours? Make it compelling, weird, funny, or deeply true to draw in the reader to whom your story should matter.

Develop your main points and state them at the top of clean pages. Jot facts, ideas, and examples to support the statement and so on for each page’s main point. List experts, sources for more research, myths and misconceptions about this issue, scripture or other references related to each main point.

Organize the structure or layout of the whole piece. What is the logical order of the main points? Which order will deliver the smoothest flow? Chronological? Outside to inside? Bigger to smaller? General to specific?

Write. Flesh out each main point. Keep sidebars in mind. What is the take-away value from each of these points? Think relevance and practicality for the particular readership of your targeted publication. Keep notes on how the article can be refocused for other readerships.

Step away from the desk. Go work on a different project. Come back later and read the article like a reader, fresh and objective. Trim excess. Readers are busy people, so show you value their time.

Edit, rearrange, delete, refine and hone everything to the focus of the piece. Read it aloud into a tape recorder. Listen to it. Polish it.


Is there any way to tie their products or business into the story? Quote one of their experts? Don’t use them just to drop their name, but why pass up a willing source, a source that already ties itself to this publication? Do not use the advertiser or sponsor in a bad light or the article will get tossed or heavily edited. Publishing is a business, so respect the publisher’s business interests. The publisher is not going to bite the hand that feeds it. Nor should you.

Go deep into your topic to build a compelling read. Craft it like a story so it flows smoothly and is easy to follow.

Tom French, a journalist for the St. Petersburg Times, won a Pulitzer Prize for documenting the changes between his generation and another generation of students in high school. The series of articles he wrote for the St. Petersburg Times became the basis of his book South of Heaven: Welcome to High School at the End of the Twentieth Century. He took the facts, the people and the situation and told it like a story, using skills of fiction writing to present non-fiction.

When submitting your article or story, break the article into subheadings to make the editor’s work easier. Be sure to include sidebar information, such as statistics, facts, addresses for more information, national hotlines, or associations related to the topic of the article. Include a bibliography of sources to help the fact-checker verify every fact in the article.

Include a bionote (a one or two sentence description of you tied to the article) that includes your website or credentials. Most authors also include the title of their most recent book, especially if it relates to the topic of the article. The bionote generally appears at the beginning or end of an article to tell the reader something about the author of the piece. Here is an example bionote I used for a flying magazine at the end of a feature article on Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base: Joni M. Fisher is a journalist and instrument-rated private pilot who learned to fly land planes at Brown’s Seaplane Base in 1996. Contact her through



What is the history of this topic, this person, this place? What is the historical perspective? What legends and myths are connected to this place? Where is the future headed? Extrapolate the trends and their potential impact. Who is predicting the future of this place, this topic, this technology? What does the man on the street believe? History has flavor.


Quantity, locale, diversity and intensity. How big is this anyway? Does the story reach beyond the local to the regional to the national to the global? Does it affect only one industry? How many different ways does this event, this news affect others? (Shutting down one major shipping port in the U.S. causes what?) How deeply does this news affect people’s lives? Does it affect the CEO and the hourly worker the same? Does it affect the elderly the same as toddlers?


Seek sources at different sides of an issue, but also at different levels of involvement. The academic may be an expert, but how much hands-on experience does he have? In proving a point, use different kinds of proofs. Facts, testimonials, quotes from experts blended together make a stronger point than three quotes from three experts or just listing fact after fact. Even if they all say the same thing, they say it in different ways so the repetition drives the point deeper home.


Can this story unfold from development to impact to reaction? Movement can grow from alternating opposites (like changing the focal length of a camera). Abstract/concrete, general/particular, broad view to personal example—shift the reader’s focus. What is the big picture and the telling detail? Take the reader into the story.


Keep it as conversational as possible. Showing off your vocabulary will distance you from your readers. Write in the clearest way possible, as if you are writing to your best friend. Even if you are the world’s leading expert on the topic, you won’t reach people if you preach or dictate to them. Show, don’t tell. If your article seeks to convince people to take action, then do so with facts, testimonials, objective information. Write with honesty and heart and your readers will appreciate it even if they disagree with you.

Always, always satisfy the reader’s question—Why should I care about this? Make the article worth the reader’s time and energy. Pack it with solid value.

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What You Need to Know to Write for Publications

trackingsuccessWhether you are young or newly retired and seek to support yourself as a writer, you need to establish a plan based on understanding the marketplace for selling your work. Expect a slow start and slow returns. If you want to pursue a career in writing, consider keeping a day job with a regular paycheck while you build your credentials as a writer. It may seem noble to suffer as a starving artist, but living the cliché does not guarantee success any more than drinking in excess grants you the writing skills of Hemingway. Keep in mind that Tom Clancy worked in insurance until his earnings from his books exceeded his insurance salary. He did not quit his day job after publication of his first or second book.

One pathway to publication is writing articles on specific topics for magazines, newspapers, and online publications. As newspapers transfer from paper to online formats, keep in mind the vast range of online publishers–professional organizations, corporations, and other outlets–willing to buy your writing. While it would help to have a degree in journalism, you can manage well without it if you take your writing seriously enough to study the market. You produce a product with the written word. You can maximize your time and income by learning about the marketplace and the process.

For example: Let’s say you have a blog about your hobby–bicycling. As your readership or following grows, you become an expert or a source of valuable information. You interview bike racers, bike repair experts, and so on through your blog. Why not share your passion with other like-minded bicycling enthusiasts by offering your blog to the largest biking association or manufacturer? Don’t they need content for their magazine and website? Why not earn income from something you are already happy to do for free?

In this series I will present Things You Need to Know to Write for publications:

  • Types of Articles,
  • Finding Your Topics,
  • Generating Story Ideas,
  • Research,
  • Interviewing Sources,
  • Query Letters & Guidelines,
  • Writing the Article,
  • Fillers & Sidebars,
  • Contracts,
  • Reprints & Rewrites, and
  • Tracking your Work.

I will share my knowledge of three decades as a working journalist and other resources available to help you. I have taught writing to police officers, students who speak English as a second language, middle school students, and fiction writers. While building my career as a fiction writer, I worked as a technical writer and journalist by day and helped support my husband through medical school. For more information about me and for samples of my writing, see my website: Developing a writing career is not for sprinters. If you decide to take up the marathon of a long-distance career in writing, enter the race with knowledge.

Editors seek articles that entertain, enlighten and inform. No matter how brilliant your article may be, if it isn’t NEWSWORTHY (meaning valuable and interesting for their publication’s readership) then the editors will not buy it. Each publication has its own readership measured in numbers and demographics. Demographics show the readership by age range, race, gender, cultural background, politics, religion and other factors. For example: Working Mother readers are predominantly women, but probably not the same women who read Cosmopolitan.

I will show you how to analyze a publication to determine its demographics, style, and fit for your work. One popular source of listings for magazines is the Writer’s Market, which gives a paragraph description of a publication. Here is an example:

Christian Science Monitor This world-famous American newspaper seeks “upbeat, personal essays from 300 to 900 words.” Their current requirements include travel, parenting and seasonal essays. Read the guidelines for updated information. Payment: $75-$160 on publication. Guidelines: [It also lists contact information, such as the name, title, and mailing address of the person to query, their response time, whether they pay on publication or before, and how many readers subscribe to the publication.]

Let’s begin with an overview of the work strategy or process needed to get your article from concept to publication.


Every week bring 25 article ideas to the desk. An idea is a topic or subject combined with an approach or slant. To test an idea, ask it as a question and then answer the question. For example: What is the quality of local news broadcasts? They have become entertainment (or agenda?) focused instead of informative and objective.

  • Choose the idea to develop into a query or article by how exciting it sounds to you. If you don’t get revved up about research, interviews and so on, then your reader will sense the lack of enthusiasm. Find the idea that matters to you to pursue and develop.
  • Develop a statement that captures your story idea in 25 words. Post this where you can see it as you research and develop the story to keep your focus. Find the fresh perspective or slant or attitude toward this subject. Target your ideal readership by demographics (age, education, location, income, experiences). Why should this target reader want to read your article? Example: A couple raised in the sixties teaches their daughter the fine art of rebellion to empower her to live boldly as a Christian.
  • Develop a headline and subhead. Example: Teaching Your Child To Rebel; Raising Lions From Lambs. This idea developed from frustrated parents raised in the sixties who want their children to avoid following dangerous teen trends and peer pressure by asserting themselves as individuals and thinking independently.
  • Write your grabber lead sentence and keep it short, 8 to 15 words. Put the grabber fact or quote first. For example: A teenage Christian is more likely to be ashamed to admit being a virgin than to try marijuana.
  • Develop your main points and state them at the top of clean pages. Jot facts, ideas, and examples to support the statement and so on for each page’s main point. List experts to interview, sources for more research, myths and misconceptions about this issue, scripture or other references related to each main point.
  • Organize the structure or layout of the whole piece. What is the logical order of the main points? Which order will deliver the smoothest flow?
  • Conduct research and interview experts.
  • Write. Flesh out each main point. Keep sidebars in mind. What is the take-away value from each of these points? Think relevance and practicality.
  • Step away from the desk. Go work on a different project. Come back later and read the article like a reader, fresh and objective.
  • Edit, rearrange, delete, refine and hone everything to the focus of the piece. Read it aloud into a tape recorder. Listen to it. Polish it.
  • Send the query letter to the magazine, or online publishing organization this piece belongs in. Make a list of other candidate buyers and file the list with the piece.
  • If you get a ‘no thank you’ letter from one publication, immediately send out a query to the next one on the list.
  • Track your queries, acceptances, publication dates, payments and rights. An example tracking chart will be provided as a pdf in a later blog.
  • Two months before the rights revert back to you on a published piece, send out a query to another magazine for this article [to publish as a reprint or a new piece to suit the buyer’s readership].

Selling reprints or rewriting an article to sell to other publications will multiply your income. Your research, interview and writing time can pay off repeatedly when you refocus your article to suit different groups of readers.

Editors will notify you of their policy regarding reprints. Generally, the larger the buyer’s organization, the less likely they are to buy reprints. However, once you have done the research on an article and topic, you can rewrite the article with a new angle or slant or perspective to suit the next publication.

For example: I published an article in an aviation magazine about earning my pilot’s license. In that publication I freely used aviation vocabulary without having to explain it. When Christianity Today bought the article, I rewrote it to suit the focus the editor requested—how a hobby brought a married couple closer. Hubby and I both fly, so writing from the perspective of a married Christian was easy. I had to define the aviation terminology, but the focus of the article was on how aviation affected a marriage, so the substantial rewrite earned me a higher fee. They paid the fee for an original article, and they also gave attribution to the previous publication with an endnote. The fact that the article/topic appeared in an aviation magazine gave it more credibility.

The King and Queen of freelance writing are Robert Bly and Kelly James-Enger. Bly is the master of copywriting and he shares his expertise though his books, most notable of his collection is:

Secrets of a Freelance Writer, Third Edition: How to Make $100,000 a Year or More

Kelly James-Enger has made a very comfortable living as a freelance magazine writer on topics of health, fitness and nutrition. She shares her freelance experience and knowledge in these books:

Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success

Ready, Aim, Specialize!: Create Your Own Writing Specialty and Make More Money

Goodbye Byline: Hello Big Bucks

A few terms you need to know:

Front of Book—the part of the magazine before the feature articles appear.

Kill fee—a magazine buys your article for a percentage of the full payment to keep it off the market for a period of time.

Rights—First North American Serial rights (an original work), Second North American Serial Reprints (a reprinted work or a work with large sections reprinted from a previously published article)—see contract for “buys all rights” or the length of time the rights belong to the publication. Typically, rights last 30 to 90 days after the date of publication. Reprints are often half of the pay of the original or less than the second magazine pays for an original.

Writing on SPEC—this means that you are writing on speculation that the magazine will buy the finished article. The editor may ask a writer to submit on SPEC if this is the first work submitted to this magazine. This gives the editor the right to refuse to buy it if it is not up to the magazine’s standards or style or may cause controversy. If the editor sends a contract, then the work is considered writing “on assignment” and the editor will demand changes if the work does not meet his standard.

I will define publishing terms throughout the series. I welcome comments, questions and sharing of this series.

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