Let’s Go On a Field Trip By Thomas Smith

There are certain essentials every writer needs in order to be successful:

  • A comfortable work space
  • A current market guide and reliable market lists (including WritersWeekly)
  • The tenacity to market your writing on a regular basis
  • Occasional field trips

Yep – field trips. One of a writer’s best tools is the ability to find new markets, and preferable those not inundated by submissions from other writers. And while market lists and other Internet resources are a great way to research markets from the comfort of your own office, kitchen table, or makeshift desk in the basement, there is no substitute for heading out to your local library or the closest mall.

Have you ever found yourself standing in line at the grocery store, flipping through one of those mini magazines that cover everything from astrology to ways to bring diabetes under control? Well, somebody has to write them. The next time you are stuck behind someone paying for sixteen cans of cat food and a bag of gummi worms with pennies, take a few minutes to jot down the publisher’s information. Most will at least have the name of the publishing company in their pages (sometimes they include the editor!) and you should be able to find the rest from there.

Bookstores are a natural place to find publisher info. The easiest place to start is in whatever section you are interested in. When you come to the books similar to those you want to write, start writing down the publishers’ information – but before you leave, go by the magazine section. There is a wealth of information there, and you will probably see titles you never knew existed (especially in independent bookstores). Again, write down the pertinent info; publisher, editors, web address, e-mail info, and anything else that may get you in the door.

Now, take another look around. Where are the gift books? Greeting Cards? They generally pay well, though they will most likely be work for hire.

Now while you‚re out and about, head to the public library. Skip the stacks and head to the reference section because that’s where the goldmine is located. Are you interested in writing for newsletters? Many writers don’t know there are scores of newsletters that pay good money for content (it will be our secret). Ask the reference librarian for the Encyclopedia of Associations and the Oxbridge Directory of Newsletters, and then start copying contact info. After that, ask for the Literary Marketplace and start looking for publishers in every field you want to explore.

One of my favorite sales came after a trip through the local community college bookstore. I saw a rack of laminated study guides and decided to jot down the contact info. After thinking about what I might be able to pitch to them, I called the contact number to ask whom I should contact about pitching a couple of ideas.

As it turns out, the person I needed to contact was covering the phone while her secretary was out of the room. I explained I would never call to pitch an idea, but was just trying to find the appropriate contact information. She said, “Well that’s fair enough, but since I’m on the phone anyway, go ahead and pitch me a couple of ideas.” So I pitched, and she said she liked the ideas, but it would be a year before they could create a new study guide. Then came the words that started an ongoing association (I just finished four new guides for them this year) –

“I’ll tell you what I do need, though‚” she said. “I’m looking for somebody to write a guide on writing expository essays. Can you e-mail me a quick proposal?”

The resulting project was 3,500 words and paid enough to send my wife and her mother to Hawaii for two weeks. All expenses paid. And I still had a little left to put in my retirement account. And all from a field trip.

Thomas Smith is an award winning writer, newspaper reporter, essayist, playwright, TV news producer, and a pretty fair banjo picker. His writing fantasy is to stow away on the Space Shuttle and write the ultimate travel article. Learn more about him at .