Finding Profits In Shorts By John K. Borchardt

Is writing short articles, 100 – 800 words, worth the effort? Because the money involved is small, one has to question the value of accepting these short assignments. There can be sacrifices involved. Shorts can fragment one’s time, allowing less time for larger projects that bring fatter paychecks. This time fragmentation also can make it harder to meet deadlines.

However, with effective strategy and good time management, short pieces can be additional income producers while paving the way to longer, more lucrative assignments from some editors, while not interfering with your current larger projects.

I write more than a fifteen shorts per year; they are an integral part of my annual business plan. There are four keys to successfully incorporating shorts into one’s freelance writing business. First is writing short monthly or quarterly columns for regular customers that require little or no querying. I have three regular clients for whom I do a total of seven short columns, 500 – 800 words, annually. By late December 2005, I knew my 2006 short column deadlines. With this advance notice, I can schedule these projects to fill small or unexpected openings in my work schedule. I have worked on these shorts in airports, on airplanes, in hotel rooms and in doctor’s waiting rooms.

Second is choosing subjects requiring little or no research or that rely on previous research done for longer pieces. Minimizing research time is critical if writing shorts is to be a worthwhile investment of your most precious asset, your time. Laurie Lewis, author of What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants, (Aletheia Publications), stresses the most important factor in deciding whether to take an assignment is how much you will earn per hour, not per word.

Third, I often substantially shorten and update my old pieces on evergreen subjects and slant them for a different readership. When I say old, sometimes I really mean old. I have taken articles as much as 12 years old, updated and slanted them for different magazines, and gotten them published. This often involves ruthlessly shortening previously written manuscripts, usually by narrowing their focus.

Practicing the second and third strategies usually results in short assignments that are easy to complete. Hence they are tailor made for both short time blocks and distracting work environments, such as doctor’s offices and airport departure lounges. I have spent as little as thirty minutes on some short assignments.

By practicing these three strategies, I can meet my minimum hourly rate of $80.00 per hour at per word rates of as little as $0.10 – $0.25. Like many full-time freelancers, I am more concerned about how much I make per hour than payment rates per word.

Finally I use shorts to break into major magazines paying $1.00 per word or more. We’d all like to write lucrative long feature articles for prestigious magazines. However, editors customarily minimize their risk in giving a writer their first assignment by making it a short ìfront of bookî (FOB) piece. In this situation, I usually abandon the above three strategies and work long and hard to make the short an example of my best writing. I use these shorts to prove to editors both my writing skills and my ability to meet deadlines, thereby opening the way to longer, more lucrative assignments. Also, even with a fairly short word count, at a dollar per word or more, shorts for these publications are worth more effort.

For really short shorts, 100 – 200 words, if the magazine guidelines indicate it accepts unsolicited manuscripts, it is probably worthwhile to send your short manuscript plus your writer’s bio and a short cover letter rather than crafting a query that will often be longer than the short.

Some Magazines Publishing Shorts

Magazines in almost every category publish shorts. Some magazines accepting shorts are listed below:

Has several 300-word columns open to freelancers.
Pays $1.00 per word.

Long Island Woman
Publishes 500-word articles.
Pay starts at $40.00 (in the entertainment area)

MovieMaker Magazine
Market Listing:
Publishes 800-word articles.
Pay starts at $75.00.

Conscious Choice – A Chicago regional health magazine
Publishes articles as short as 200 words.
Pay starts at $50.00.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac – The oldest continuously published periodical in North America
Publishes articles as short at 800 words.
Pays $0.65 per word.

Publishes short pieces of 500 – 600 words.
Pays $1,500 per piece.

AIR & SPACE/Smithsonian Magazine
Market Listing:
Seeks short news items.
Pays $2000 for full-length feature.

Yoga Journal
Publishes shorts of 150 to 600 words.
Pays $50.00 to $150.00.

Guideposts Sweet 16
Publishes articles as short as 200 words.
Pay begins at $100.

John Borchardt is a full-time writer specializing in science, technology, careers and the workplace. He has written more than 1,000 articles published in magazines, newspapers, encyclopedias and online. He is also author of the book Career Management for Scientists and Engineers, a Library of Science monthly selection.