|You won't know about all the goodies|
that are waiting for you until you
start sending out those queries.
What I have noticed, however, is that many people don’t find writing for the mills easy at all. It takes a lot of time and effort to sit there and pound out multiple articles for hours each day. Also, the term “steady paycheck” is vague. For some people, that might mean making thousands of dollars each month (rare with content mills), while others might consider a few hundred dollars “steady” and enough to satisfy their needs.
Regardless, my goal here is to dispel some myths about writing for higher-paying markets, such as magazines and private clients, so that people who haven’t tried this type of writing can make more informed decisions. After all, if there was an easy way to make 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, or $1 per word on your articles (instead of the 1, 2, or 3 cents typically offered by content mills), you’d want to know about it, right?
Okay, so here’s something I frequently read and hear – that, compared to content mills, writing for magazines and private clients does not provide steady work. An acquaintance of mine broke it down for me by saying that she finds it too time-consuming to think up an idea for a magazine, research and query the market, wait for a response, write the article (if accepted), go through edits, then finally wait for payment. All this for one measly article, a procedure she will have to repeat multiple times in order to get enough work to make a living from her writing.
Forget for a moment that a single article written for a magazine can pay as much as $500, $1,000, or even more. Let’s say that you are writing “average” articles that pay $100 to $200, common with magazines that pay 10 cents per word.
What many people don’t realize is that editors who like your work will often assign you more work right away. They will find ways to keep you in their stable of trusted writers and even recommend your services to other editors and potential clients. Recently, I was thinking about all the projects I’ve worked on throughout my freelance career and realized that the vast majority of them came through repeat-business and word-of-mouth recommendations.
The first time I wrote for a magazine, for example, I was immediately invited to write the publication’s monthly health column. I wrote other articles for different sections of the magazine and also became their copy editor.
When I branched out and started writing for another magazine, I only sent in one query. Once the article I wrote was accepted and published, the editor asked me to write other articles as well. Sometimes I came up with my own ideas, while sometimes the editor gave me assignments to fit in with each issue’s theme. Here, too, I became the publication’s copy editor. Within a short period, I was promoted to production manager and then managing editor. Now I was the one responsible for recruiting writers and assigning articles!
I queried yet another magazine with several ideas and had three of them immediately accepted. The editor asked me to keep sending them in.
While this was going on, I started writing for a newspaper to which I sent a mere LOI (Letter of Introduction). All I really had to do here was send a couple of clips and mention my experience at the other magazines I was working with.
This publication sent me monthly assignments that they conceived of in-house. The newspaper was based in California, and I was living overseas at the time, so they provided me with the contact information of local people to interview whenever necessary.
Do you see a pattern here?
I could go on and on with countless examples – like the private editing client who asked me to be her personal research assistant (a gig that lasted about five years), the other private editing client who recommended my services to an internationally known public figure with the budget to match his reputation, the harried project manager who hired me to help him with thousands of dollars of his own unfinished work, and the many others whom I’ve formed lasting relationships with over the years.
Do all my queries turn out this way?
No. There are times when I’ve tried really hard to gain repeat-business from a good client, and the need simply wasn’t there. Overall, though, I would say that the effort I have put into my queries over the years has definitely paid off. I still receive repeat-business from some of my first clients and also have to turn down lots of work due to my busy schedule. Every now and then, I get the urge to write for new markets and will send out a batch of queries to get the ball rolling. This often results in a deluge of projects that keeps me occupied for months and even years at a time.
It is normal to work hard on a query, which is basically a sales letter. If you put this effort in early on, it may pay off for you, too.
You may feel uncomfortable giving up your work with the content mills in the beginning, which is understandable, but this should not prevent you from sending out queries on the side. If you happen to get an assignment, you can then manage your other work accordingly. Remember that having a by-line in a magazine is a valuable commodity as it gives you a clip that you can then use to leverage better-paying assignments with other publications. In contrast, content mills often do not provide you with clips that demonstrate your best work. In addition, some editors will not take them seriously, so the articles you write for content mills often go to waste once you collect your paycheck.
Over the next several weeks, I'll continue to discuss other common myths having to do with writing for magazines. Feel free to chime in by leaving a comment, too!