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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Five Good Reasons--to Write for Regionals

I've posted before about how I focus not on dollars/word when accepting work, but rather dollars/hour. The latter is a better indicator of what the assignment is worth to me. Keeping the dollars/hour figure in mind makes some markets that other writers might ignore lucrative options for me--like regional magazines.

Why write for regionals when their national counterparts pay more per-word? Here are five good reasons:

1. Less competition. Editors at the major national magazines receive hundreds of queries a week. When you pitch regionals, you're competing against a smaller pool of freelancers, which automatically ups your chances of getting noticed--and getting assignments.

2. Fewer editing hassles. I've written for more than 60 national magazines, and the more editors a publication has on staff, the more editing you can expect. Your assigning editor may love the piece, but then her boss requests some changes...then her boss requests changes...then the editor-in-chief decides she wants to go in a different direction. Smaller magazines=smaller staffs=fewer rewrites, in my experience. And that helps keep my dollars/word rate high.

3. Less research time. Finding experts for a story is no problem-- you can turn to draw on sources like Help a Reporter Out, book authors, universities, and associations. But what about the dreaded "real people," or anecdotal sources--you know, the real-life examples often included in articles? Finding a breast cancer survivor in her 20s or a mom of three children who's slashed her grocery bill by 50% or someone who's started his own online business and makes a six-figure living is by far the most time-consuming part of researching stories, especially when you need to have a "geographic spread" (meaning your sources can't all come from the same area). I've found that locating those dreaded "real people" is much easier when I'm doing it on a more local level--after all, between friends, neighbors, fellow parents, workout buddies, etc, I feel like I'm connected to just about everyone in the Chicago area.

4. Higher chance of steady work. You're competing against a smaller number of freelancers--that's one thing. But those freelancers are more likely to be newer to the field or inexperienced, and if you do good work for your editors (and I know you will, if you take the advice in my blog!), you'll find it's relatively easy to develop a relationship with them, possibly even become a regular contributor. Steady work=less time spent pitching=higher dollars/hour rate.

5. Higher local profile. Even with Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and other social media, there's something to be said for being known in your own locale. Having your name in regional publications can create higher visibility on a local level. I've had more comments from friends and acquaintances from my articles in Chicago Parent, for example, than from anything I've written for national mags. And the more people who know (and remember) what I do, the better.

Readers, what about you? Do you write for regionals, and if so, why? And if you don't, has my post encouraged you to try it?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Four Types of Lucrative Print Markets--and How to Market to Them

If you freelance, you already know that marketing is part of the business. But the way you pitch will depend on the nature of the market or client you're pitching. Your approach to a trade publication will differ from that of a local, national, or custom magazine, for example. Here's a look at four types of lucrative markets and how to crack each:

National Consumer Magazines

Most freelancers dream of writing for the "biggies," most of which pay $1/word and up. But how do you get your foot in the door when you have few clips (or none)? Here's the secret: pitch FOB (or front-of-book) pieces. Nearly every magazine has a regular FOB section where it features short, newsy, "quick hit" type of pieces of 300 words or less. These short pieces are relatively easy assignments, and the editors are more likely to give new writers a chance here. Writing FOB pieces is lets you prove yourself and start developing a relationship with the section editor, which makes it easier to sell other ideas in the future.

Regional and Local Magazines

Regional and local publications are a great place to break in for new writers, but they offer opportunities for established writers as well. While these magazines cover the same topics as their national counterparts, they almost always have a local angle. They're more open to newer writers, which is a plus if you're starting out. No, they don't pay as well as national magazines do (about $0.10 to $0.50/word), but writing for regional magazines can help you develop a portfolio and specialty and give you clips you can use to break into nationals. To break in, pitch a local trend story, a profile of a local person (or a roundup--e.g., five local celebs or five up-and-coming chefs), or find a local perspective on a national trend (e.g., how area families are cutting back on expenses for a regional parenting magazine).

Trade Magazines

Trade magazines are aimed at people who work in a particular trade or industry. Some, especially smaller ones, don't pay but most offer rates of about $0.20 to $0.50/word. So, how do you break in? Either pitch with a query letter or use an LOI, or letter of introduction. When querying, use industry lingo (e.g., mentioning "end caps" and "POS" for a pitch to a magazine for retailers) to show you "get it," and pitch an idea that will benefit readers. Make sure to mention the section of the magazine the story belongs in! And if you use an LOI (see my earlier posts, Query vs. LOI and Write your own LOI for more on how to do it), play up your knowledge of/experience with the relevant industry. Read my earlier post, Trade Magazines for more about finding potential markets.

Custom Magazines

Custom magazines are often overlooked by freelancers, but they often pay well, with rates starting at $0.50/word. A custom magazine is a consumer magazine with a twist; it's aimed at a particular audience—say, Jeep owners or people who buy Iams dog food for their pets. In the past, custom magazines resembled advertorial vehicles but today many are high-quality publications that mimic the look and feel of their consumer counterparts and help create loyalty between readers and the relevant company. To break in, send an LOI that highlights your experience with the subject(s) the magazine covers. Check out the Custom Content Council (formerly the Custom Publishing Council) for possible markets.

In future posts, I'll talk more about these kinds of lucrative markets and provide you with more techniques about pitching to, and writing for, them. In the meantime, get pitching!

The State of Freelance Income, Take Two

Long-time readers of my blog will recall that I started a poll about the state of fulltime freelancers' annual income back in the spring. Well, I'm continuing to receive responses and will report on the latest figures soon. (I'm also planning a follow-up survey in January, 2011 so we can see how 2010 turned out compared to 2009. As of June, 2010, 55 percent of respondents expected to make more in 2010 than in 2009 and 30 percent expected to make about the same; only 15 percent expected to make less than they did in 2009.)

Already participated in the survey? Great--thank you! If you haven't, though, and you're a fulltime freelancer, please visit my Freelance Income Survey to share your data. (Tell your freelancing buddies, too.) It will take you less than 3 minutes, is completely anonymous and will give all of us more info about the state of the market these days.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Royalty Rules: Two Facts Every Author Should Know

At a writers' conference years ago, I had the unexpected pleasure of spotting someone reading one of my books. I was sitting across from her, and couldn't help smiling to myself--it was the first time I'd spotted a reader "in the wild." When she looked up and recognized me, she waved the book, calling, "Oh my gosh! I just bought your book!"

I thanked her and signed her copy, but when I tell this story at conferences, I tell the audience that I was tempted to say, "Oh my gosh! That's great--I just bought a Snickers!"

Why? Because despite her paying $14.95 (plus tax) for my book, what I would eventually see in royalties for that one sale was about enough for a Snickers bar (albeit a king-sized one).

As a book author, you can't count on royalties anyway--the majority of traditionally published titles fail to "earn out," or pay royalties. So when you write a book, you should write it for the advance--and look at royalties as something you hope for and aspire to, not something you count on.

That being said, half of my books have earned out and pay royalties. Here's the breakdown on one title--the trade paperback retails for $14.95, with a royalty percentage of 7.5 percent. That translates to $1.12/book. However, the e-book version pays a royalty of 50% of the sale price (about $7.76/book), which translates into $3.88. Even though the e-book is cheaper for the reader, the latter produces a royalty that's more than 300% higher than the print version.

The lesson? As a book author, I promote my books all the time. But I'm going to promote the e-versions of my books over the print ones. It's a better deal for my readers--and a better deal for me.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The 10-Question Query Checklist

When I first started freelancing, I wrote about anything and everything. I came up with ideas, scouted for potential markets, wrote queries, and got a few assignments here and there. I pitched as many ideas to as many markets as I could, but this "saturation bombing technique" wasn't very effective. At one point, I had 54 queries circulating...yet few sold.

Here's the thing: yes, marketing is a numbers game, and you need to pitch yourself and your work to get assignments. But your queries have to be compelling, well-written, and well-researched. Otherwise you're wasting your time--and the editor's as well.

Before you hit "send" to email your query, ask yourself these ten questions:

* Have you spelled the editor's name correctly?
* Are you pitching the correct editor at the market--the one who should receive this query?
* Is your lead (the first paragraph or two of your query) an attention-getter? In other words, will it inspire the editor to keep reading?
* Have you included enough information about the article idea to convince the editor that it will interest her readers? (In other words, have you answered the question, "why will readers care?")
* Have you given the editor a road map of how you'll proceed with the piece, such as including the names of potential sources, the format of the story, and word count?
* Have you demonstrated your knowledge of the market (such as by suggesting the appropriate section of the magazine for the story)?
* Have you demonstrated that you're qualified to write the piece, by highlighting your experience with or knowledge of the subject matter?
* Have you included a brief description of your writing experience to date?
* Is your query free of spelling and grammatical errors?
* Have you included your contact information with the query?

After you've answered "yes" to these questions, then hit send. This ten-part query checklist will help ensure that every query you send has a better chance of turning into an assignment--which is what a query's purpose is, after all.

Want to see more sample queries that worked? Check out Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money, second edition, or Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money; each is loaded with queries that sold.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Simultaneous Submissions: The One Rule you Must Follow

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you may already know that I’m a big fan of reslanting, or taking an article idea and coming up with new angles or approaches and then pitching it to other markets. I often send the same idea to different markets (a/k/a "simultaneous submitting") at the same time—with one major caveat. I simulanteously submit all the time--as long as the markets involved aren't competitors.

Let me explain. Say I come up with a story idea on developing a better relationship with your in-laws. I might send that query to a bridal magazine like Bridal Guide and then tweak it to apply to marriages of all types (not just new ones) and send it to Family Circle at the same time. My logic is that readers of one magazine aren’t likely to be reading the other—and the publications aren't competing against each other for readers. (Note that if both pieces are assigned, I’ll write two different articles, with different angles, different sources, and different approaches.) However, I won’t query the same idea to Bridal Guide and Bride's at the same time—even if it’s timely and I want to get an assignment as soon as possible.

Here’s why: what happens if editors at both bridal publications want the story? Even if my contracts allow it (and one or both may prohibit me from covering the same topic for a certain time), I guarantee one of them (and possibly both!) is going to be rather upset when she discovers I’m also covering the topic for her competitor! There goes my relationship with the editor and the magazine...likely for good.

Freelancing isn't just about getting assignments. It's about building relationships with editors. So, if Bridal Guide doesn’t want the story, sure, I’ll query Bride's (and no, I won’t say, “hey, so Bridal Guide isn’t interested…are you?” in my pitch!) But I don't simultaneously submit to competing markets—ever. I’d rather lose some time on a pitch than run the risk of losing an editor—or a market—for good.

What about you? Do you simultaneously submit, and if so, do you ever pitch competitors at the same time? Why or why not?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Congratulations...Yvonne! The Giveaway Winner!

She's the name my son pulled this morning for the giveaway; Yvonne, please send me an email at kelly at so we can talk about how you'd like to spend your hour's worth of consulting time. I know you already have Six-Figure Freelancing (yay!) and I look forward to helping you continue to build your freelance career.

As for my other readers and followers, thank you for participating and stay tuned for more practical advice about making more money, whether you're new to freelancing or simply want to work more productively and boost your bottom line.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Time Peg: Your Query's Secret Weapon

First off, thanks for all of the great suggestions/questions on my earlier thread...I'll announce the winner of my giveaway on Wednesday, September 15! Stay tuned...

As a writer who often covers "evergreen" subjects, I'm constantly looking for new, "fresh" ways to pitch a story. (And believe me, editors want the same thing!) Instead of pitching "10 ways to lose weight," for example (boring!), I might instead pitch a piece on the surprising reasons you're gaining weight; how lack of sleep can make you fat; how your friends and family may be making you fat; or how even your environment cause you to gain weight. Get the idea? You scout for different ways to approach the same basic idea.

I've found that one of the most effective ways to do so, and to up my chances of getting an assignment, is to employ what I call a "time peg." A time peg makes your evergreen topic of interest right now. Here's an example:

Dear Ms. Editor:

You've been watching your diet and working out, but that number on the scale just won't budge. Wondering what the problem is? The culprit may not lie with what you do during the day, but what you do (or don't do) during the night--namely sleep. A recently published study found that people who slept just four hours (compared to eight hours) a night consumed an extra 559 calories the next day! It's easy to see that several weeks of sleep could easily show up not just as undereye bags, but as extra around your middle as well.

[Rest of the query omitted.]

Get the idea? The study gives my evergreen idea (how to change your lifestyle to lose weight) a timely spin, and makes it more likely to be assigned by an editor.

That's why I suggest you look for a time peg (be it a new study, a statistic, a news story, an anniversary of an event) to make your evergreen story timely. Are you doing this already? How do you make your evergreen stories sound fresh?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Celebrating 100+ Followers: A Valuable Giveaway

Hi, readers...and all 106 of my followers!

To celebrate hitting the 100+ mark, I'm offering a special hour's worth of time with me and a free copy of Six-Figure Freelancing (if you don't have it already...which you should!). You can have me review and critique query letters, ask for advice on growing your career, have me help with marketing your business, you name it.

So how do you participate? Post a comment on this thread and tell me about an aspect of freelancing you'd like to know more about--or a specific question you'd like me to answer in the future, by Tuesday, September 14. I'll then have my five-year-old son pull a name at random, and will announce the winner here. Then the winner and I can set up a phone consultation.

Thanks and I look forward to working with the winner! :)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The McCaughey Septulets Rule

To successfully freelance for magazines, you must be able to write compelling query letters. You make yours stand out from the pack by researching the topic ahead of time—and letting the editor know you've done so.

Depending on the topic, this may mean including statistics, recent research, or "live" quotes from an expert or another source. So how much time and effort do you put into the query itself? Do you interview a source before you get the go-ahead to do the actual article? Or do you wait until you get the assignment? The answer depends on what I call the McCaughey Septuplets Rule.

With some articles, contacting a source to write the query ahead of time is a smart move. How do you know whether it's necessary? My rule of thumb is this: if the story turns on the person's participation (such as with a true-life feature or a profile), then I contact the person ahead of time to make sure he or she is willing to do the story if I get the assignment. This also gives me a chance to do a brief interview and drop some intriguing quotes into the piece.

When I was teaching magazine writing, I called this "The McCaughey Septuplet Rule." Long before Jon and Kate Plus Eight (post-divorce, now Kate Plus Eight) came along, the McCaughey Septuplets, born in November, 1997, were big news. Every few months, their beaming faces would grace a woman's magazine.

But here's the thing. If you want to write a profile on the McCaughey septuplets, you need the septuplets. You can't just grab three sets of twins and a singleton, smush 'em together, and call them septuplets.

That's why I confirm that any critical story source is willing to talk to me before I pitch the story—I don't want to be stuck with an assignment I can't deliver. Otherwise, I note a couple of people who I "plan to interview" (note my phrasing--these are the types of sources I plan to talk to--if one isn't available, I'll get someone similar), and contact them once I get the assignment.

Get the idea? If the story turns on someone's participation, I get their OK before I pitch it. Otherwise I pitch it and contact my sources afterwards. That's the McCaughey Septuplets Rule, in short.

What about you? How do you handle this?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Live in the Chicago Area? I'll be in Mt. Prospect on Tuesday, Sep 14

Howdy, readers!

Just a heads-up: I'm presenting my popular program, 'Breaking In: The Basics of Writing for Magazines," at the Mt. Prospect Public Library next Tuesday, September 14, 2010, at 7:30 p.m. It'll be 90 jam-packed minutes that will help you launch your freelance career writing for magazines or work more efficiently and make more money writing articles. The program is free (yay!) but you do have to sign up online to attend.

Visit for more about the program...I hope to see you there!

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Idea in your Pocket

I'm delighted to report that this weekend I hit the three-figure mark with 100 followers on my blog. I'm planning something special this week to celebrate...stay tuned. In the meantime, my ghostwriting eclass launches today, so if you've signed up, look for your first lesson in an email from me later this morning.

Today's post is about timing--namely, the best time to pitch an editor you're written for before. Think about it for a moment before you keep reading.

Is it Monday morning? Friday afternoon? Right after lunch? The end of the day? The summer equinox? Valentine's Day?

Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, and unless she has the most amazing guy in the world, nope.

The best time to pitch? When she emails you to tell you she's accepting your piece, or that you did a great job, or that the story looks good and she'll let you know if she has any questions about it. She'll never be more favorably disposed toward you and your work than at the moment she's telling you you she's happy with the piece (even if you had to revise it). That's why you should always have what I call an idea in your pocket--a query that's ready to go when you receive an email accepting the story. Then you can reply to her email by saying, "Good to know! So glad you're happy with the piece. In the meantime, I have a story idea I think is perfect for you." Then include your new pitch.

That's not being pushy--it's maintaining your relationship with your client, proving that you're a one-person idea factory (you don't tell her you've had this idea in the wings for a while), and helping her do her job, which is to fill her magazine with relevant, interesting content for her readers. So have a fleshed-out query ready to go after you've turned in a story to an editor. There's no better time to pitch her than the moment she accepts your earlier piece.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

First Time Ever! Learn How to Break into and Succeed in the Ghostwriting Biz

Thanks to all who tuned in last night for my teleseminar on Six-Figure Freelancing. My big news? After more than a decade of teaching in-person classes, I'm teaching my first eclass--on ghostwriting.

SAY GOODBYE TO YOUR BYLINE: GETTING STARTED IN GHOSTWRITING is a 6-week class that will start on September 6, 2010 (yup, that's Labor Day!). The classes will be emailed or posted that day (still deciding which), and for the five Mondays thereafter. So you needn't tune in at a certain time--as long as you read the class material and do the relevant homework.

Here are the details about the class:

Want to make more as a book author or freelancer? One of the most lucrative freelance fields is ghostwriting and coauthoring yet most writers know little about this niche. What do you need to get started? What makes ghostwriting more challenging—and yet more rewarding—than writing your own books? Why is this field a great way to expand your freelance career? In 6 weekly lessons, you’ll learn:

*What you need to be a successful ghostwriter;

*What types of clients hire ghostwriters and how to market to them;

*How to determine what clients are a best fit for you;

*How to help your client decide what publishing options are right for them;

*How to interview potential clients—and know which are worth your time;

*How to set and negotiate fees; and

*How to capture your client’s voice and work efficiently.

Remember, I’m a long-term freelancer who’s taught classes on magazine writing and successful freelancing to thousands of students and writers’ conference attendees in the last 13 years. This is the first time I’m teaching a ghostwriting class, and I promise you’ll learn everything you need to know to break into this niche, whether you want to be a fulltime ghostwriter or simply want to add it to your freelancing repertoire. If you sign up for the Premium version (with includes critiques and feedback), you’ll also develop a customized letter of introduction, and a marketing plan designed to help you attract the clients you’re best suited to work with.

For this first offering (prices will go up in the future), the class is $219 for the Premium version with 6 weeks of e-mail support and feedback. $99 for the Basic version with no e-mail support. Visit to sign up and please post here or email me (kelly at with any questions.