The first article I ever submitted was accepted, published, and paid for – about $300, if I recall. And, I was hooked.
I proceeded to write and submit everything I could, and it was all rejected. I began to suspect that I was a flash in the pan, alone-shot Willy, not a real writer.
Thanks to a loving wife and a burning desire to write, however, I persisted. But, I started studying how to do it right. I studied various available magazines. I bought Writer’s Market and studied the guidelines. I studied how to write appealing queries and cover letters. I wrote about what I knew or was learning. I then wrote and submitted articles that markets wanted, and by their rules. Then, my work was again accepted.
I had so much success that I got a job teaching writing classes in high school. Then, my publication and teaching experience led to a job as an editor with a government defense contractor. When the end of the Cold War closed that door, I continued editing independently, and taught writing for a large homeschool cooperative, while still writing articles for publication. For another eleven years, I wrote history curricula for a textbook publisher before once again returning to independent writing.
Yet, over the years, my idea of writing success included having a book published by a traditional publisher. But, I had no book to my credit. I studied publishers who wanted the type of material I wrote, narrowing the field to two. I then prepared identical query letters, and hit the “send” key. Within an hour, one publisher expressed interest, and asked for a full proposal package, and the first three chapters. By the end of the day, the other publisher replied similarly. I could supply the requested proposals because I had already studied how to do that, and I already had most of the manuscript written. My goal became a reality when McFarland Publishing offered me a contract for Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries, which will be published this year.
The keys to writing success are still the same:
- Study markets and guidelines.
- Write what you know (or learn).
- Submit “by the book” (i.e., according to each editor’s/publisher’s guidelines).
- Be willing to take on other work as you write.
- Be patient and persistent.
These steps have worked for countless writers over the years. And, they worked for me. If I can do it, so can you!
Dennis L. Peterson is an independent writer/historian based in Taylors, S.C. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Writer, Blue Ridge Country, Country, Good Old Days, Scouting, Elks Magazine, Railfan & Railroad, numerous educational magazines, and many others.
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