Long ago, if anyone had told me I’d be doing what I’m doing today, I’d have laughed really hard. I still have to pinch myself as I roll out of bed and meander to the computer in my PJs to work. Writing is the best job in the world because it gives you the freedom to be your own boss, make your own decisions and enjoy the successes. But, it didn’t happen all at once. It took a lot of goal setting, work, perseverance and dreaming big!
Anyone endeavoring on a writing career should understand that it won’t happen over night. I started in college and majored in English and Business. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew it had to involve writing. I loved to write and had been writing stories and poems since I was a little girl. This was my passion in life and I knew it from a young age.
After graduation I sought out work with a newspaper or magazine. All I wanted was the experience. Each small job led to bigger ones. I started as an assistant to the editor at Scuba Times and moved up to the editor of a military newspaper in Japan.
I educated myself as much as I could. Deciding to focus on writing for children, I took the Writing for Children and Teens writing course at the Institute of Children’s Literature. I joined writing organizations and critique groups. I checked out books at the library on writing for children. Taking action and learning all I could about the industry helped me to become a better writer and sell my work.
Setting goals has been vital to my success. I knew my dream was to write for a living, but how could I do this? I set long-term and short-term goals. Long-term goals were things I wanted to accomplish in two to five years. Write a book, sell 50 articles and stories, and so on. I wrote them all down in my writer’s notebook. Then I broke each of these goals down into short-term goals. These were the things I would do on monthly and weekly schedules. I wrote down ideas for stories and articles. I wrote those stories and articles and I submitted continually.
When something came back rejected, I didn’t ponder over the letter or get sad. I got mad and sent the piece back out to another publisher. I kept doing this until something was accepted. With each acceptance, I gained more confidence to try again and shoot higher. I read my goals on a daily basis and event taped them to my computer and refrigerator. This way, they were always in front of me, reminding me of my ultimate dream, to write for a living.
My first acceptance was with Skipping Stones Magazine. It took me four years to sell a short article on springtime in Japan. I had worked in editorial and staff writer positions for two magazines and it took me four years to sell one article to a non-paying children’s magazine! My biggest hurdle was not knowing magazines well enough to taper my piece to their guidelines or subject matter. I sent a lot of articles and stories to magazines that my work simply would not fit with.
I changed my way of thinking. Actively seeking out magazines with clearly stated needs and wants, I focused my writing for each magazine. I still do this. For example, Guideposts for Kids recently sent out a submissions call for articles about sports. I read their website and other articles they had accepted and tailored an article just for them on tennis. Guess what? It was accepted.
Crinkles Magazine was looking for freelance writers. I called the editor, told her about my writing background, met with her, showed her my resume and some writing samples and got the job. For two years I wrote in every issue, sometimes four articles for each issue. That was $600 and many published articles. Each sale, each experience has led to bigger and better things.
Because I wrote a lot of nonfiction for children’s magazines, I was able to query educational book publishers for projects. That led to seven children’s books with Chelsea House and Enslow and close to $15,000 in advances and royalties for payment. Between my part time writing and teaching writing, life is dream; not because of the money but because I am doing something I love.
Stick with your dream to write no matter how out of reach it may seem. Set goals both long- and short-term and search for opportunities. Become an active participant in your writing career and give yourself time to reach those goals. If I can do it, so can you!
Jennifer Reed has sold over 200 articles and stories to many children’s and adult magazines including Hopscotch, Boys’ Quest, GRIT, Parents Magazine, and Chicken Soup for the Expectant Mother’s Soul. With eight books under her belt, she is now a professor of writing and children’s literature with the Institute of Children’s Literature- the very same course she took over 10 years earlier. She is also the editor and co-founder of Wee Ones Magazine.