Although I won my first national writing competition at the age of 13, it took ten years to see my byline regularly appear in print. I have to thank an article in Writer’s Digest magazine for my breakthrough moment.
I was tired of rejection slips. Every writing teacher in my graduate program at Queens College said that if an editor took time to scribble a personal word of encouragement on the printed rejection slips, you were doing well. I had dozens of slips with handwritten messages on them. I’d even developed a weird correspondence via rejection slips with one editor, who seemed regretful that each short story I sent him could not be published. I continued tapping out copy on my old IBM Selectric. Despite my efforts, selling an article to a national magazine eluded me, and I couldn’t figure out why. I thought my submissions proved that I could craft compelling copy. Why weren’t editors buying my work?
Flipping open Writer’s Digest, I scanned the article quickly. The advice was typical – “Know your markets” – “Send query letters, not full manuscripts” and I wanted to throw the magazine across the room. Yet the author included something no one else had included: a month-by- month checklist. Maybe because I’m such a linear thinker, this ‘cookbook’ approach worked for me, and the simple steps became my guideline to magazine publishing success.
Over a decade later I continue to use three concepts taken from that article to advance my freelance career.
+ Knowledge: At the time I read the article, I worked only a few blocks away from a public library. I used my lunch hour to study magazines. Trends began to emerge. While the statement, “Know your market” may seem cliche’d, those hours spend leafing through magazines of all sorts in the public library helped me target my queries more effectively. I learned each editor’s likes and dislikes, the tone and style of the publication, and topic trends. By acquiring knowledge, I improved my targeting, which led to more acceptance letters and fewer rejections.
+ Patience: Instead of rushing into writing a full-length article on a topic I had no certainty of selling, I began to submit query letters. I developed systems for tracking query letters and I moved onto the next topics once the query was in the mail. Patient application of what I’d learned about magazine writing was starting to pay off as my phone rang with acceptances and assignments.
+ Persistence: Persistence helped me achieve my final breakthrough, and by the end of the year, not only had I published essays and articles, but magazine editors were contacting me to write stories on assignment. By persistently sending out five queries a week, whether I felt inspired or not, I greatly increased the odds of an acceptance.
Today, I make my living through marketing consulting, freelance copywriting, and writing for print and online periodicals. I still use the three keys, and carry with me the inspiration gained from that one article so many years ago that led to my success today.
Jeanne Rudmann Grunert’s freelance career began when at the age of 13, she won the Brockport Science Fiction Writer’s Contest. She studied science fiction and fantasy writing with Nancy Kress and Stephen Donaldson, and went on to publish two more short stories before the age of 19. Her writing has appeared in Horse Illustrated, Equus, Newsday, Horse People and many other magazines. She is the Site Editor for LovetoKnow Herbs, writing about herbal and alterative medicine, and a Contributing Writer for other topics on the site, including Gardening, Vitamins, and Paranormal. After obtaining both an M.A. in Writing and an M.S. in Direct and Online Marketing, she went on to a successful career in marketing, and now combines her love of writing with her passion for helping individuals and small businesses achieve their sales and marketing goals. Visit her website at www.sevenoaksconsulting.com or listen to her weekly radio program on Blog Talk Radio, http://www.blogtalkradio.com/Seven-Oaks, focused on small business marketing success, for ideas that may help you market your services more effectively.