Some years ago I volunteered at a suicide hotline where my shift partner was a full-time freelance writer. He encouraged me to submit a family relationships piece called The Love Bucket, which was too short to merit a query. Besides, I had zero clips. So, I took notes from the latest Writer’s Market, which was hardcover then, and couldn’t be checked out from the reference shelves.
The Love Bucket was dispatched with the then-obligatory SASE. Again and again with no luck. Finally (hurray!), the ninth submission garnered an acceptance from a religious magazine. I quickly sent the editor a note of thanks and another already-written piece. He bought that one, too, so I quickly sent an additional proposal, which also received a go-ahead.
Next, I took one of the stories, removed the religious slant, and sold one-time regional rights to a local parenting magazine and then three additional parenting publications in different cities.
Now I had credits. I’d been published in magazines and newspapers nationwide! (Hyperbole, but not untrue.) As I was published in a wider variety of publications, I created a resume listing publications (alphabetically so I could easily add new ones) to add as a second page to proposals.
But, I remember clearly how hard it was to get started so here are three pointers that led to my success as a freelancer.
1. Line up your markets.
You may have a well-thought-out article idea or even a finished piece. Find at least three markets. Then, if a query or proposal is not accepted (better term than “rejected”), immediately move on to the next market. If you don’t have a back-up market in mind, it’s all too easy to put off finding it until tomorrow. Or next week.
Finding markets is a snap with the Internet’s immense library of guidelines. With a subscription to the online Writer’s Market, which is regularly updated, you can search for everything from book publishers to trade journals.
Then there are free places like this website offering searchable listings, payment amounts, with links to the publications’ websites. Googling “writers guidelines” comes up with more than 161 million hits. Narrow the field by searching for “writers guidelines” +quilting or +softball or +horses or whatever.
2. Find non-competing secondary markets.
You can sell the same stories to publications with non-overlapping circulations such as regional parenting newspapers or different religious denominations. It usually results in lower pay, but investing 20-30 minutes on a quick rewrite and submission can return an attractive hourly rate.
3. Maintain relationships with editors.
If a publication likes your work, keep querying them. If one sends you multiple rejections, drop them from your list. Maintain successful relationships but don’t waste time on ones that clearly aren’t working out.
Lynn Pribus, a freelance writer and book editor, has more than 1200 sales of fiction and non-fiction to books, magazines, and newspapers worldwide. Her main topics are parenting, senior lifestyle, “green” living, wellness, fitness, and travel. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she is a columnist for CHARLOTTESVILLE FAMILY and writes for a weekly real estate publication. She also writes for a variety of national magazines.