Creative Writing Ideas to Pitch Locally By Debra Johanyak

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All writers want top market prices for their work. But top markets often ask for publishing credits, and how can you get publishing credits without making a sale? Rather than give away your writing to hungry publications that are too new or too poor to pay, sell your work to small or local markets. Commercial sales help to fill your vita with the much-desired publishing credits and provide you with experience in marketing your work and negotiating rights — for profit.

First, tally your talents. Do you have experience taking photographs for friends’ weddings, babysitting rambunctious preschoolers, or working as a veterinarian’s assistant? Almost any way in which you spend a significant percentage of your time is an area where you may be able to publish useful information. Jot down a few possibilities.

Here are ideas to help you get started:

1. Newspaper articles. Local, daily, and weekly newspapers often buy specialty articles from community writers. Suggest a piece about your recent vacation spot or submit a list of gardening do’s and don’t’s. Look for newspaper sections that may be interested in your helpful article, such as business, dining and food, medicine and health, culture, etc. Contact the editor to check the newspaper’s freelance policy. Then submit something that will interest your neighbors and friends. For a list of major U.S. newspapers, check http://newslink.org/statnews.html.

2. Company newsletters. Norma Higgins, an accountant for a mid-sized nursing home, enjoyed hearing about new medical research and recently developed products and services for residents. She also wanted to commemorate coworkers’ weddings, births, and anniversaries. Since there was no in-house newsletter to share this information, Norma proposed doing one for $150 per monthly issue. Her supervisor agreed on a trial, six-month basis, and the new publication was born. In the first few months it became so popular that Norma was asked to develop an extended edition for the facility’s client families, suppliers, and associates, with Norma to receive $400 for each issue (that would now be sent every other month to allow her time to collect information and format the newsletter). A Web page and possible e-zine are under consideration as the next steps.

Look for ready-made niches at your job or in companies that provide personal or professional services, such as home heating, and offer a simple four-page newsletter or Internet e-zine. Build your next success by extending the reach of your publication or shopping your skills to other businesses.

3. Church groups and social agencies. While some churches publish newsletters or weekly paper publications as part of their in-house ministry, others have a PR line item in their budget to outsource a mailing, whether monthly, quarterly, or biannually. Contact local churches to find those who may be willing to utilize your services, and be prepared to explain ideas and options.

Social or community service agencies sometimes farm out writing work. When Deanna Miller volunteered to teach art to underprivileged children for a neighborhood youth organization, she soon saw that the services were underused, possibly due to the community’s lack of awareness. She sketched a one-page proposal for the director outlining a public relations campaign that would include posters, letters to local schools, and informational fliers. The director got excited about the idea and hired Deanna to develop the materials that soon led to record agency participation. Don’t hesitate to approach service groups to explain how promotion will help stretch organizational dollars, and why you’re their best bet for undertaking the writer’s role.

4. Business and industry. If you have clerical experience or several years of computer work, you may be able to sell your skills to small or medium-sized companies. Dee Rose paid $300 for an ad in the Legal News. Her first customer called within a month and resulted in a $400 sale from the organization. She was hired to create the company’s policy handbook. The rules, already handwritten and loosely organized, needed to be typed and reorganized under specific headings, then placed in binders. The company president was so pleased by Dee’s success that he is considering her proposal to write a company history of his family-owned business for a considerably higher price tag.

Lee Holmes contacted ad agencies in his community to offer help with overflow work, based on several years of sales experience. Two companies are considering his portfolio of samples, and one has requested his assistance with writing a speech. Show how your work experience can benefit new clients in coordinating a publication or assisting with various writing projects.

Don’t sell yourself short by giving away your writing skills, but don’t expect instant miracles, either. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and writers don’t become millionaires overnight. If you start small and stay with it, you may find a pleasingly plump check in your mailbox one of these days.

Debra Johanyak teaches college writing and has been published in a variety of genres. Her articles and short stories appear in publications like Marriage Partnership, The Family, Fellowscript and Mississippi Quarterly. Prentice Hall recently published her book, Shakespeare’s World (2004).