Let’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.
WHAT TO TRACK
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
HOW TO TRACK
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) www.simonkewin.co.uk
SAMM (free) www.sandbaggers.8m.com
Writer’s Market Tracker ($6 per month, $40 per year) www.writersmarket.com. 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: http://www.amazon.com/Kelly-James-Enger/e/B001HOL840
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!
For more articles like this go to www.jonimfisher.com.
Okay, 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 FreelanceWriters.com (www.freelancewriting.com/guidelines). 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.
EXAMINE YOUR TARGET PUBLICATIONS
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.
A CASE STUDY
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: https://jonimfisher.com/jack-browns-seaplane-base/.
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: https://jonimfisher.com/jack-browns-seaplane-base-celebrates-40-years/.
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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Usually 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?
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.
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.
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.
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 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.”
Develop 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.
NOTICE THE ADVERTIZERS
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 www.jonimfisher.com.
FACTORS TO CONSIDER
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.
To read more articles like this, go to www.jonimfisher.com.
A query is a first impression. Prepare to make a great impression with the publisher by being professional and prepared. Look at the publication’s WRITER’S GUIDELINES. See their website or write to them for a copy. The guidelines state how to submit work to them, their target audience, their purpose, pay, lead time, and the rights they purchase.
Look at the publisher’s schedule of topics for the coming months. Allow yourself three months’ lead time to query your article.
When sending a query, mention placement of your article in a specific section or column of the magazine to demonstrate familiarity with the publication. Identify the specific editor of that section or column by name. Do not address a query to Life Editor, but to Ms. Jane Smith, Life Editor. Spell the editor’s name correctly!
If the article is timely, that is its value or newsworthiness expires after a certain date, then you can query multiple magazines and newspapers at the same time. Be sure to note in the query that due to the nature of the article, this is a multiple submission. An example: The 50th anniversary of the moon walk, or the 40th anniversary of a business, the end of a era, the first fundraiser of a new organization or charity. First one that sends a contract wins the race to publication. And if you time it right, you could submit the article as a reprint to another publication that same year when the rights expire on the first publication. More on reprints in another blog.
If the Editor wants a query by snail mail instead of by email, then include clips, and a business card. (By clips I mean copies of previously published articles on this topic.) If you have a website with samples of your work, include this website listing on all correspondence, emails, letterhead, business cards and faxes.
- Title Does it capture the essence of the article? Be short, be sharp and direct. If the article or essay is humorous, let the tone show in the title.
- One-sentence summary This is always my lead-in statement for the query. Unless the article can be stated clearly in one-sentence, it isn’t ready to send. Show the slant of the article, how it is unique compared to others on the topic.
- Opening paragraph Grab attention and set the tone and context.
- Theme Two to three sentences that build on the one-sentence summary and opening paragraph and provide a description of what the body of the article will cover.
- Word count is this a snapshot of the topic in 400-500 words? Medium length of 700-800 words like an essay? Full-length feature of 1000 to 1200 words?
- Submission delivery date Show professionalism with a realistic delivery date and what travel/research/interviews must be done to complete the article.
- Photos Detail the images you will provide and their source (taken by yourself, publicity shots, or a photographer) and their format (prints, jpeg files on CD, color, black & white, slides).
- Sidebar details Further information on the location, map, prices, etc. on the topic or subject.
- Column location Demonstrate your understanding of the publication by naming the section or column that the article suits.
- Credentials A four-line bio that details the overview of the topics you have written on and where they have appeared. List three publishing credits in the same genre of the proposed piece. Do NOT skip giving this information by telling the editor to go to your website—the Editor won’t do it.
- Clips Submit samples of previously published works on this topic or area of expertise.
A more in-depth explanation of query letters appears in Moira Allen’s book The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches & Proposals. Moira devotes a chapter to print and electronic queries.
Two sources of market listings are:
The All Freelance Writing website has a free online listing of markets that provides direct links to the websites of the publications so you can read their latest guidelines. http://allfreelancewriting.com/writers-markets/
The Writer’s Market sells for under $50 for the print version and more for the combination print and online version. The online version also includes a submission tracker. This is the largest market listing available that I know of.
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