Submitting that first story can lead to so much more if you open your mind to the possibilities. When I had my first child I began writing about the parenting/motherhood experience. I sent my stories to my local newspaper, which bought and printed every one. People got to know my writing and my children were an endless resource. I wrote about giving birth, raising children, first day of school, on looking for heroes-universal topics that speak to a wide audience.
I also wrote about my own childhood and the life lessons I learned. One of my first stories was Colouring the Road. It was an Easter essay on an assignment the teacher had given us, to colour in the stones up the steep hill to Calvary. We worked at our pages all thought Lent, colouring in a stone for each prayer, sacrifice or good deed we completed.
I first sold the story to the daily newspaper in 1989 just before Easter. They paid $80. Seasonal stories are a great way to use and reuse your holiday memories. If you write them for magazines, make sure you send them three to six months in advance.
I looked for another possible market. I found it in 1990 in The Annals of Ste. Anne, a Catholic publication, which paid me $40 for the story. I was encouraged to collect my essays into a little book, which a publisher accepted. It was published in 1995 and was titled Colouring the Road; Lessons in Everyday Life. The title came partly from that story and partly from my philosophy that we choose the colours for our road through life, regardless of what comes our way. I made some money from book sales and to this day still receive a royalty payment each year from the (Canadian) Public Lending Right, $114, for that little book.
Last year, Chicken Soup for the Soul put out a call for Catholic stories. They accepted Colouring the Road and I was paid $200 USD. In each case I told the editor when and where the story had been published previously. I resold other essays in the same manner.
Freelance writing is not an easy way to earn a living, so looking for more than one market for everything you write means more return for your time. My little essays resulted in the editor asking if I would be their (paid) reporter in my rural area. Something I did for five years. The confidence and experience I gathered in that time made my work more marketable to magazines. I currently write Special Features for that original newspaper and I also am a regular contributor to a few magazines.
When I mentioned to one magazine editor that I was taking an editing course, she asked if I ever did fact-checking and would I like to try it. I hadn’t, but I was open to a new revenue stream. So I began checking facts for the magazine as well as writing my own stories. Fact-checking paid $25 per hour with a limit of five hours per story, depending on the length of the story. I learned to question and confirm or suggest removal of every statement made in a story – spellings, numbers, dates, claims, distances. A fact checker reads, “The human eye can see millions of colours” and asks, “Can it? Who says so? Where are the facts?” They then try to find the answer.
Since 1989, I have written approximately 783,453 words for which I have been paid. So what began as one little sale grew over the years to a very rewarding writing career.
Donna D’Amour is an award-winning journalist published in The Globe and Mail, The Chronicle Herald, PhotoLIfe, Saltscapes, The Beaver, Living Healthy in Atlantic Canada, The Canadian Writer’s Guide, Chicken Soup for the Catholic Soul and more.
BAM Advanced Fiction Techniques: First Pages
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