June 28, 2006

Venturing Out By Jacquie McTaggart | printable version

How do you use WritersWeekly.com's paying markets section? Does the magazine's title and your knowledge (or lack of) of a particular niche determine whether or not you read the guidelines? If you've never lived on a ranch and don't know any cowboys, do you bypass the guidelines for RANGE magazine? Do you dissect and ruminate over every word in Purposeful Women? Sure you do; you're human.

We all like to write about our areas of expertise, and some of us refuse to tackle anything beyond. What's the payoff for never leaving our comfort zone? Less challenge, fewer writing assignments, and smaller income. I know what I'm talking about because I've been there, done that.

Ironically, it took a humiliating experience to get me off my duff, out of my rut, and into the "big bucks" column. If my story encourages you to spread your wings and expand your writing horizon, we"ll both be happy. I will have accomplished my goal, and you"ll have a healthier paycheck.

In 2001 I left the classroom (with a heavy heart), wrote From the Teacher's Desk, and began speaking to teachers at International Reading Association state and regional conferences. My most requested topic was "transforming the Reluctant Reader." All went well and I was quite proud of myself - until one fall day in 2004.

I was in Philadelphia, speaking to about a thousand reading teachers. At the end of my dog and pony show, I foolishly invited questions. Quicker than you can say "dummy," a fellow seated in the far back corner of the auditorium (I can still picture the ugly shirt he wore) stood up and yelled, "Do you think it's a good idea to use graphic novels in the classroom?" Uh, oh. Time to 'fess up.

"Sir, I'm ashamed to admit that I don't know enough about graphic novels to offer an opinion. Would you allow me buy you a Coke after this session and fill me in?" The audience laughed; I cried. Well, not really, but I felt like it. After answering a couple of "easy" questions I slunk off the stage, bought two Cokes, and began learning about graphic novels.

Six months and mountains of research later, I knew what graphic novels were (paperback collections of six to twelve comics bound together as one book) and the positive impact they could make on middle and high school reluctant readers. I fired off a query to Reading Today, the International Reading Association's trade journal, and held my breath.

Within a week, I had my answer. Using Comics and Graphic Novels in the Classroom was published in the October/November 2005 issue of Reading Today. But that's not the end of my story.

Two days after my article appeared in print, I received a call from the head of the education department at San Diego University. He had just received a government grant to write a reference textbook, Picture This: Teaching With Graphics. He wondered if I would consider writing a twelve to fifteen-page chapter explaining how comics turn "reading sucks" kids into "books rock" readers. The assignment would pay a thousand dollars. It took me about two seconds to "consider" his offer. Three months later, I laughed all the way to the bank.

How did I land a plum assignment on a topic I knew nothing about six months earlier? I shed my comfort coat, grabbed my research hat, and tackled the unfamiliar. And so can you.

The next time RANGE magazine calls for submissions, seize a rope, lasso your doubts, and go to work. It's never too late and we're never too old to try something new.

Jacquie McTaggart, author of From the Teacher's Desk, has been published in the New York Times, Better Homes and Gardens, American Educator, Reading Today, Teacher, The Catholic Teacher, ByLine, This Active Life, Grand, and in numerous metropolitan parenting publications. She lives in Independence, Iowa with her husband, Carroll.

 




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