“Write what you know.”
Veteran writers gave me this advice from day one. To prove their point, they showed me sales they had made writing about things they knew a great deal about. These included hobby-based articles published in gardening magazines, boating journals, and genealogy newsletters. One writer even had a book in a nonfiction educational series. She got the contract to write it because of her day job as a nurse. Other writers had parenting and family essays and pieces on faith and spirituality. Obviously, they had all found ways to use their day jobs, hobbies, and other things they cared deeply about to make sales.
What I didn’t realize until later was that none of them had published any articles on writing, although it was as important to them as everything else. It was important enough that they got up early or stayed up late to find time to write. They spent their lunch hours on their craft. They scribbled in notebooks, waiting to pick up their children from school. Writing was a deep part of who they were, but they never wrote about it for pay.
I stumbled into writing for writers when I got a message from someone I had eaten dinner with after a conference. Would I consider writing for Children’s Writer newsletter? Her editor had gaps in upcoming issues, and she needed writers now. I was a nonfiction writer with no sales in this area, but I subscribed to the newsletter and knew what they published and their style. I contacted her editor and received my first assignment, completing a piece for a writer who had a family emergency. I now have almost one hundred publishing credits in Children’s Writer newsletter,
Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, Writer’s Digest, and WOW! Women on Writing. I’m even a blogger for The Muffin.
There are a wide variety of publications and websites that need writers who can explain what they do to other writers. Why shouldn’t you be the one doing the explaining? The first step is to figure out what you have to share and who publishes that type of work.
“Anything you do well can become a craft article.”
What to Write
Start by seeing what experiences feed into which types of writing. The variety of things that publishers are looking for is vast.
You can’t publish without developing your craft. As you improve your writing, you learn about grammar, punctuation, and citations. You develop skills in characterization, hooking a reader, and using setting to its best advantage. Anything that you’ve learned to do really well can become an article on craft.
Many of my own craft articles delve back into my pre-writing life when I worked in archaeology and history. Not surprisingly, my love for research found its way into my writing, and I discovered how impressed editors were with the primary sources I sought out for my various nonfiction projects. When I realized that other writers might not know how to do this kind of research, I pitched articles about using maps to research settings and clarify the how and why of various historic events (“X Marks the Spot: Maps Deepen Research, Strengthen Writing,” Children’s Writer 2002), conducting map research online (“You Are Here: Online Maps as Research Sources,” Children’s Writer Guide to 2003), and also about using both primary and secondary sources when writing science for kids (“Gathering Data: Writing Science for Kids,” Children’s Writer, 2005).
You don’t have to write about research techniques to start penning how-to articles. Maybe your strength is dialogue, or you are the best in your critique group at pacing. Anything you do well can become a craft article. These kinds of articles sell to WOW! Women On Writing, Writer’s Digest, and Writing World.
If your strength is in marketing, you’re in luck because another topic that many editors want is marketing. In fact, that’s the core of the Children’s Writer newsletter, with a minimum of two market-based articles in every issue. These pieces clue writers in on what is being published in specific markets, ranging from picture book biographies to young adult mysteries. Other places that publish market-based articles include Writer’s Digest and Writing for Dollars.
If you’ve diligently studied parenting magazines to sell your work to regional publications, then you are primed to share what you know with other writers. New publishers, changing markets, and trends all make strong topics for marketing articles. My efforts to find “boy reading” yielded a market article on boys’ fiction, “Calling All Boys—and Writers for Boys,” in Magazine Markets for Children’s Writers 2011.
Maybe you’re good at ferreting out top-notch resources for writers? Then consider writing a review. How-to books, references, retreats, and websites all make good topics for reviews and are published by a variety of magazines, including the American Journalism Review and genre specific newsletters, such as the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) Bulletin.
Whenever I find an amazing book, something that I can use to make my writing sing, I look for some place to review it. I stumbled across The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, just as I was rewriting my own middle-grade fantasy. I had realized that my anxious character was at great risk of chewing off his bottom lip unless I found another way to express his emotions. The Emotion Thesaurus proved key to saving him from great physical pain and led to a post on The Muffin.
Maybe you are the person who gets a writing sister going again after a demoralizing rejection. Or perhaps life lessons become literary lessons, as you type away at your keyboard. If so, inspirational essays may be your thing. Writer’s Digest’s “Inkwell” always includes an opinion piece.
Other possibilities for articles include pieces on funding—the main focus of Funds for Writers—as well as Q&A articles and profiles of industry insiders. Whatever your writing know-how, if the information has been useful to you as a writer, chances are that you can find a publication that will see its worth for their readers as well.
That said, research your markets carefully. Some publications, such as the SCBWI Bulletin and the Romance Writers of America’s Romance Writers Report, have a narrowly focused topic. Others, including both Writer’s Digest and WOW!, have a much broader focus, which varies monthly according to each issue’s theme. Also examine their audience. A publication for beginners may be interested in an article on industry terminology, where a site for industry pros would want something entirely different.
What experiences do you have as a writer? Figure this out and you are well on your way to writing yourself into a fresh batch of sales.
“From profiles to feature articles, writers rely on experts to make their point.”
Borrow from the Best
Not every article is from the experience of the writer who pens it. From profiles to feature articles, writers rely on experts to make their point. Fortunately, other writers are often willing to give an interview in return for the publicity that having their name in print brings to their books, and editors also give interviews to freelancers established in these markets.
The reality is that using your expertise as a writer means going beyond your writing experiences to utilize your know-how in networking. Trying to learn how to use your camera more effectively to capture images to complement your articles? Then pitch a how-to on the same topic. That’s what I did with “More Than Snapshots: Take Your Own Pictures” (Writer’s Guide to 2011). My article on photography tips for writers definitely isn’t based on my own ho-hum skills. I interviewed professional photographers, including wedding photographer Jose Villa, who was happy to share his craft with my readers and me.
Question and answer articles and industry profiles also come into being based on interviews. Maybe you know the person that you want to interview. That’s generally the easiest way to do it because you can talk to her before pitching to your editor. Sometimes, you’ve met someone else who knows this person. That’s how I got an interview with Egmont publisher Elizabeth Law after meeting one of her editors at a conference.
Once you start making sales and have editors that you regularly work with, getting interviews gets much easier. Until then, publicity hungry writers may be your best bet. Sometimes, it isn’t what you know, but whom you have access to that makes the sale.
Fortunately, writing articles isn’t the only way that you can bank on your experience as a writer. Once you’ve developed expertise in one particular area of writing, it may be time to move beyond simple articles. My favorite example of this comes from my friend, Darcy Pattison.
An analytic writer, Darcy honed a series of techniques that she used in rewriting her work, taking it from the story she had managed to get on paper to the piece she intended to write all along. She parlayed this ability into a weekend-long revision retreat, complete with a workbook of exercises for the participants. These exercises and the accompanying lectures evolved into a book, Novel Metamorphosis (Mime House).
Whether your skill is characterization, research, or self-promotion, once you’ve got it down and have a series of articles to your credit, think about writing a book. I’m in the process of looking over my articles to see if I have enough material in any one area for a book. Pattison’s volume is ten chapters long. Twenty-three chapters make up Dinty W. Moore’s Crafting the Personal Essay. Steve Kowit’s In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop is thirty chapters long. If I don’t have enough to rely on my own expertise, I could expand on my knowledge by interviewing my fellow writers.
Talk All About It
Even if I’m not quite ready for a book, there is one final way to bank on my expertise as a writer—public speaking. You can offer your own writing event, like Pattison did, or you can make yourself available as a conference or workshop speaker.
Start by looking at the organizations in which you are a member. I’ve spoken at SCBWI events throughout Missouri. As a retired regional advisor, I would also be a first choice speaker in surrounding regions that know not only my reputation, but also the fact that I have worked for the same goals they strive to meet.
After you look at organizations to which you are linked, look for similar organizations in your region. I have spoken to the St. Louis Writer’s Guild as well as another chapter of the Missouri Writer’s Guild. Depending on what you write, other possibilities might include the Romance Writers of America or Sisters in Crime. With so many organizations seeking speakers, the possibilities are endless if you put together a top-notch program—not to mention, a top-notch program can become a book.
While I consider the possibilities for both speaking engagements and a potential book, I’ll continue to pitch my work to publications in our field. After all, I’m still working to improve my craft, so why not earn another byline or two?
To Market, To Market:
From newsletters to magazines to e-zines, trade publications for writers abound. In addition to those listed below, many organizations (RWA, SFWA, SCBWI) publish a newsletter or magazine. Before pitching your work, take a look at the publication’s readers. Are they new to the field? Or seasoned pros? What are their genre interests? The answers will shape your pitch.
American Journalism Review
Bimonthly magazine on print, television, radio, and online media. Includes how stories are covered, ethical matters, and the impact of technology.
Submission Guidelines: http://www.ajr.org/ajrgart.asp
Editor: Rem Rieder, article submissions to email@example.com
Funds for Writers
Focuses on helping writers make income with information on contests, grants, and paid writing opportunities.
Submission Guidelines: http://www.fundsforwriters.com/submissions.htm
Pay: $45 for unpublished articles, $15 for reprints.
Editor: Hope Clark, submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org
No attachments. Include whether or not piece is a reprint.
One-hundred-year-old magazine devoted to publishing verse but also publishes interviews with poets as well as essays.
Submission Guidelines: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/submissions
Pay: $150/page for prose, $10/poetry.
Editor: Christian Wiman, online submissions received via an online account, also by snail mail. See guidelines for details.
Poets & Writers
Essays, articles, interviews, and how-tos for writers of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.
Submission Guidelines: http://www.pw.org/about-us/about_poets_%26amp%3B_writers_magazine
Editor: Kevin Larimer, snail mail or e-mail articles or queries.
WOW! Women on Writing
E-zine dedicated to women who have chosen the writing life. Craft, inspirational, and marketing articles as well as a blog.
Submission Guidelines: http://wow-womenonwriting.com/contact.php
Pay: $50 - $150 for articles in e-zine.
Editor: Angela Mackintosh, submission or query in title. Include content in body of message, will not open attachments. email@example.com
Devoted to helping writers improve their craft and sell their work. Publishes how-to pieces, inspiration, interviews, and marketing materials.
Submission Guidelines: http://www.writersdigest.com/submission-guidelines
Pay: $.30 - .50 per word.
Editor: Jessica Strawser, responds to e-mail queries and submissions only. E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Writing for Dollars
E-mail newsletter on earning income through writing. Articles on productivity, maximizing income earned, and various markets.
Submission Guidelines: http://www.writingfordollars.com/GuidelinesDB_display.cfm?MarketID=833
Editor: Dan Case, query to email@example.com
Publishes how-tos on fiction, nonfiction, business, and commercial writing, the business of writing, etc. Extensive article database on site.
Submission Guidelines: http://www.writing-world.com/admin1/guidelines.shtml
Pay: $.075/ word for original articles with a maximum of $150, $35 for reprints, $20 for humor.
Editor: Moira Allen, query or complete manuscript to firstname.lastname@example.org
Sue Bradford Edwards is a writer and book reviewer who creates scenes in her home office in St. Louis, Missouri. Read her work at Education.com and Prayables.com. To find out more about her or her writing, visit her blog, One Writer’s Journey, her book review blog, The Bookshelf, or her website.
Enjoyed this article? Check out more articles on writing craft, market, and inspirational articles from Sue on WOW!:
A Writer's Fitness Plan: How to Work Writing into Your Daily Life
Children's Nonfiction: A Niche Worth Pursuing
Recovering from Injury: Bouncing Back from Rejection
Build the Bridges that Let Readers Access Your Story
Creating Scenes: Fiction's Building Blocks
Navigating the Fantastic: Rules for Writing Fantasy
How to Write a Picture Book
How to Combat Writer's Block
Interview with Simone Elkeles, Teen Romance Author
Sue Bradford Edwards' Posts on The Muffin