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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Turn your Kids into Money-Makers, Take 2

When I teach magazine writing, at least half of my students are stay-at-home parents (usually moms) who are looking for work that they can do from home. Freelancing--regardless of whether you write books, articles, blogs, newsletters, web copy, ads, you name it--it a great choice for parents. You've got to get creative about blending parenting and freelancing (and having a baby-sitter certainly helps), but plenty of moms and dads make it work.

You can write about anything and everything, but a lot of parents start out covering child care topics. Why not? After all, you're spending much of your time surrounded by little idea factories--a/k/a your kids. (I've posted before about writing for parenting markets (and it's one of the writing specialties I devote a chapter to in Ready, Aim, Specialize).

So I was intrigued by Kerrie McLoughlin's ebook, Get Published in Parenting and Family Magazines. Kerrie is a homeschooling writer mom of 5 and wife of 1 living in Kansas City. She has written for over 70 regional parenting magazines (RPMs) since 2009. She's got great advice for parents who want to launch their own freelance careers:

You've written for a slew of regional parenting mags. How did you get started, and then how did you branch out to others?

I started with a magazine I found at the library, Mother and Child Reunion. I wrote a piece about how moms can make money with their kids in tow, and the editor wanted it to be a regular piece. I wrote a few more (for online only) before I realized I hadn’t even asked about getting paid, but that I probably wasn’t going to get any money for doing it. I quit that and remembered how a mom friend told me she went grocery shopping nearly every day. I couldn’t imagine dragging my own three kids to the store all the time and quickly wrote my first (and honestly, mediocre!) piece for my local parenting magazine, Kansas City Parent. I was shocked when it was accepted. Around the same time, an essay I wrote for La Leche League’s New Beginnings magazine was also accepted.

I was hooked but had no clue where to go with my writing, especially since I didn’t have Internet access at home. At the library one day I stumbled upon the Parenting Publications of America website I started getting sample copies of RPMs from all over the country and snail mailing editors, but that yielded zilch. It was only after I collected all the email addresses and writer’s guidelines and editorial calendars I could get my hands on that I started blind-submitting pieces all over the place. It’s taken close to three years, but I’m on track to have close to 90 publishing credits by the end of 2011 and am slowly sending queries to nationals.

Do you write original stories for regional parenting mags and sell reprints, or a mix of both?

If I write something on assignment, I generally wait until that piece has printed and then sell it everywhere else as a reprint. Most of my work is articles and essays I come up with on my own and then I just submit them to around 300 RPMs each time. It’s a crapshoot … some pieces do well and some don’t. I sell those as “reprints” because it’s likely that several RPMs will be using it in the same month, so I don’t feel right calling something an “original” that might be printed 10 places in October, for instance.

If you sell reprints, do you "tweak" the stories for the new markets? How so?

No tweaking because it takes too long. If an RPM wants a piece and needs it localized or tweaked, I’m happy to do so, but I can’t try to read minds and put in hours of work that might lead to nothing. Believe it or not, my initial crapshoot method works pretty well (especially on seasonal pieces)!

What types of topics tend to be your biggest sellers?

Seasonal pieces (Halloween, Christmas, Easter, Father’s Day, etc.)! The bonus is that they can be resold year after year to different markets. So now I try to come up with SEASONAL things I wish I had known when I was starting out as a mom. “Trendy” stuff sells well, too, like homeschooling and putting a “green” twist on topics.

I've blogged before about "turning your kids into money-makers." Do you get a lot of ideas from your own kids?

Like crazy! Birthdays, fundraisers, lemonade stands, pets, saving money, making money are all topics I could not have written about with authority 10 years ago. And the ideas don’t just come from my kids, but from my husband and from family members (grandparent pieces, how to deal with relatives during the holidays, being a travel widow).

As a mom and a freelancer, how do you manage your time and stay productive, writing-wise?

It’s a constant struggle! I do research and send quote requests when my kids are sleeping. I write outlines and the meat of articles during the day when the kids are having their “quiet time.” Sometimes I can get away for a couple of hours to go to a coffeehouse with my laptop and pound out some pieces and queries then. To attempt to stay productive, I keep an Excel spreadsheet where I try to do something writing-related every day, like send a query to a national magazine, find a new regional market, send my reprint list (monthly) or send a completed article to an RPM. Sometimes I get behind and have to catch up a week’s worth of stuff all in one day, but at least I see some progress.

What made you decide to write your e-book? What does it include?

I realized I had dug up a lot of great markets that were not on the PPA site and was using the information with success, so I added writing advice and a bonus section to help other newbies. I wish I had a resource like Get Published in Parenting and Family Magazines when I was starting out, especially since it’s updated every year and sent out free to previous buyers! There are so many writers who write solely for their local publication and have no idea they can be reselling their pieces again and again for money that really adds up, as well as valuable publishing credits that bring you more work.

***Thanks so much to Kerrie for sharing her advice; if you're a parent who wants to freelance, I suggest you check out her book!