published or unpublished, are often looking for ways to earn money
while they’re waiting for that next book contract to come in. Can I get
an amen? If you’re where I was in the mid ’90s, you’re looking to prove
that you’re a “real” writer by getting your name in print anywhere you
can. Maybe you’re longing to appease a spouse who’s fed up with your
claims that you’re a pro, when so few, if any, advances have been
deposited into your checking account. Or perhaps you just need a little
boost—some indication from an editor that your work is worthy of
publication. A pat on the back would be nice.
Well, fret no more! You can
supplement your fiction income by selling magazine articles. We’re
going to address this topic over the next three months, but I want to
start by giving you my Top Ten List of things to consider as you shift
gears from novels to magazine articles. We’re talking about two
different worlds here, folks! It is possible to have a foot in both,
but you might just end up doing the splits if you’re not careful.
JANICE’S TOP TEN LIST FOR
WANNABE ARTICLE WRITERS:
1. Write tight. Novelists are
accustomed to a hefty word count. Lengthy descriptions. Extensive
characterization. Magazine articles don’t allow you that same luxury.
Editors will be looking for tight, concise pieces. If you can say it in
ten words, you can say it in eight. Kill off adjectives, adverbs, and
any other words that don’t keep the piece moving forward. (And by the
way, learning to write tight will help you with your novel, too!)
2. Think like a freelancer. A
magazine article writer has to drum up his own work. If you’re the shy
sort, get over it. You’ll be pitching, pitching, pitching. You’ll also
be interviewing, generating ideas, and basically thinking outside of
the box. If you’ve never studied the life of the freelancer, this is
3. Touch your reader where he
lives. In other words, your article topics have to hit home. They must
meet felt needs. If you’re unsure of what those “needs” are, become a
people watcher. If you’re still unsure, ask a magazine editor for his
or her list of upcoming themes.
4. Learn the basic components of
a great article. (We’ll talk more about this next month.)
Understand the various article types: how-to pieces, roundup articles,
personal experience pieces, “Hear it from the Pros,” as told to,
inspirational, profile/bio, essay/opinion, confession/tell-all, travel,
6. Develop a solid understanding
of the submission process. Learn how to craft a killer query letter.
Keep author-editor relationships strong by doing what you’re hired to
do—writing tight, relevant pieces and turning them in on time. Don’t
leave any stone unturned.
7. If you’re interested in
writing for the newspaper, study the world of journalism. You might
consider a class at your local junior college.
Build a platform. If you’re a
novelist, you’ve heard this hundreds of times. You need a following.
The same is true with magazine article writing, but probably not for
the reason you’re thinking. People (traditionally) don’t care who wrote
the article they’re reading. Don’t let that hurt your feelings...
it’s just a cold hard fact. However, as a savvy writer, you should
care. Why? Because those article topics could one day lend themselves
to your novel or nonfiction book. And speaking of nonfiction books...
Write articles that can be
turned into nonfiction books. (I know, I know! I hear you saying: “But
I’m not a nonfiction author! I’m a novelist!”) Here’s my take on that:
Nothing in your life should be wasted. If you’re writing those magazine
articles on, say, menopause, why not take them, tweak them a bit, and
turn them into chapters for a nonfiction book on the subject? If you’ve
been building a platform by publishing a host of articles on the same
topic (menopause), you’ve been setting yourself up for a nonfiction
book, anyway. And who knows! You might just use that same topic as the
foundation for your novel! Before long, you’ll be known as “that
menopause writer.” (Hey, it’s better than being known as “that
10. Learn the tricks of the
trade. Hang out with other magazine article writers. Get to know
editors. Figure out new angles. In other words, be savvy. Think on your
feet. Be prepared to turn anything and everything into an article.
BONUS TIP: Join
www.writersmarket.com. Take the time to learn how to navigate it
I want to leave you with a true
story, something that once happened to me. I’d written a little quiz on
procrastination. Took me about twenty minutes to write it, and I had a
lot of fun in the process. Buzzing over to www.writersmarket.com, I
submitted it to a variety of publications. (And, yes, you can
simultaneously submit magazine articles. We’ll talk more about this
over the next couple months). A few weeks later, I got an e-mail from
the Sylvan Learning Centers. I couldn’t recall submitting to them, but
it turned out one of the places I had sent the quiz to ended up being
their parent company. See how God works? They purchased my quiz for
$400! Can you imagine? I couldn’t either, but that $400 gave me the
cash I needed in that moment. And cash in the bank does something else,
too—it frees you up to spend time working on the thing you really love
. . . your novel.
That’s it for this month,
novelists. Grab your notepad. Let the ideas
roll! Then cash in on them so that you can write the great American