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Writing for Experience

Recently, I enthusiastically accepted a low-paying assignment. Why? Because this assignment offered something beyond a financial benefit: It offered the opportunity to improve my skills.

This new market was way outside my comfort zone. Normally, I'd never even think about trying something this new. But I was feeling ambitious---and a little courageous. So I took a deep breath and dived right in. I'm happy to say that the assignment was more than interesting---it was exhilarating. There's nothing so wonderful as conquering your own personal demons.

So step outside your comfort zone. Try something completely new, and maybe make a small little income from it. You have nothing to lose. And lots of experience to gain.

Snail Mail or E-mail?

When sending queries, many writers are perplexed by the snail mail/email debate. Snail mail is old-fashioned and expensive, and email is quick and snazzy. So, do you stick with the days-of-old, or do you cruise down the submission superhighway.

I'll 'fess up. I've tried both methods, and found a considerable difference in their response. My vote: go for SNAIL MAIL.

Sure, email's fast. But guess how many of my magazine/book queries and manuscripts have been accepted via email? None. Nada. Nothing. Zilch.

That's not to say that I haven't received any responses. A few editors have typed back a quick note (usually very helpful), with a "Thanks, but no thanks" reply. Hey, that works for me. I'm always happy with friendly email rapport. It's the "no responses" that bug me.

But snail mail absolutely does the trick for me. Yes, I know that I have to pay for envelopes, nice paper, postage, printing costs, etc. But you know what they say: you have to spend money to make money. And in this case, it's absolutely true.

My only guess is that editors are like me. They like the feel of paper in their hands. They're visual---they want to see the finished product. Maybe the extra effort that I spent shows that I am more diligent. Anyone can send an email. But how many people will actually invest the time and/or money in snail-mail queries and manuscripts.

The only two exceptions center around cold calls and repeat business. I have been known to test the local waters with newspapers (which did result in an assigned story!), and I absolutely rely on email once I've sold a story. Once an editor emails me, it's fair game (as long as there's no stalking involved!).

The bottom line: Buy some ivory stock with matching envelopes. Your efforts will pay off.

Dealing with Rejection

Writers have to have a tough skin. Rejection happens all the time, and you just have to brush it off.

It's not easy, though. Opening the mailbox to see your own SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) will make your heart skip a beat. Your hand will quiver as you tear open the envelope. You think, Maybe this is the one! And maybe it is. But more often than not, it's another rejection.

So how do you deal with it? Oh, I still have a hard time with it. But think of it this way: One "YES" is worth 100 "no's". The first time I received an acceptance call---YES, the editor actually called me to offer me a BOOK contract!---I was beside myself with joy. My feet didn't touch the ground for two weeks.

So here are some tips for dealing with the inevitable rejection:

1) Accept your emotions. When you're tearing yourself apart, trying to figure out how to be a real writer, remember this: You ARE a real writer. Writers are supposed to be emotional; they are supposed to be insecure; and they are supposed to question their validity. That's what makes your writing so good.

2) Count your failures. A long time ago, another writer introduced me to the power of 100 "no's". (My apologies to unknown creator of this concept.) She explained that every "No" was one step closer to a "yes" --- and in order to be successful, you simply have to get the 100 "No's" out of the way. Let me tell you, there is great power in saying, "I already have 86 rejections. Only 14 more to go!" Believe me, by the time you get to 100, you'll be successful.

3) Think smaller. Not everyone is a Mark Twain or J.K. Rowling. Some of us are just ordinary, girl-next-door type writers. We go to PTA meetings; we watch our kids play ball; we go out with our friends. You don't have to sell a best-selling novel. Try working with newspapers, trade magazines, or local businesses. Success is only a footstep away.

4) Send 10 submissions every day. Okay, so you're not that prolific? Wrong! You don't have to write 10 articles each day, you only have to query 10 places each day. Or send recycled queries (queries that were rejected by one editor, but completely usable for another publication). Email local businesses, or call friends that know a business owner. Networking is the key to success, and all submissions are a form of networking.

5) Promote yourself. Do you have a website? (Ha! You have me there! Mine isn't completed yet.) Do you have business cards? Write a blog. Get a small advertisement in the PTA newsletter. Join the Chamber of Commerce. Tell your friends what you do. Networking is the key to success (see #4 above).

Rejection is just another of life's lessons. Don't dwell on the negative. Put a positive spin on it, and let it work to your advantage. When you're a complete success, you'll know that you really and truly earned your right to write.

Writing Magazine Articles

In the wake of the bridge collapse in Minneapolis, writing seems so trivial. My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and the families caught in this tragedy.


Writing Magazine Articles

When dreaming about writing magazine articles, most of us have visions of a byline in Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, or Reader's Digest. But the truth is that these magazines are already inundated. It's time to find a new approach.

Like everyone else, I started my career querying the top-of-the-food-chain publications. But trial and error proved that there was a better approach: querying the lesser-known publications.

So I spend days flipping through my latest copy of Writer's Market. (Yes! You do want to buy the new edition every year, but go through the book club so you get a discount. I do NOT recommend their website. It's clunky and cumbersome, and I find it annoying when so many listings come up with "listing removed" or some such comment. I know they're working on it, so I hold out hope!)

The next step was to query the smaller publications. Okay, so Modern Bride really wasn't the best magazine for me, so I successfully queried an unknown publication. This magazine was distributed for free at bridal shops. But surprise---the payment was still pretty good.

Even better---this lesser-known publication didn't have many freelance writers. So I wrote several more and they were accepted as well.

And that was my turning point. Instead of fighting for the top spot, I sent numerous queries to the small and moderate magazines. The editors were always kind, and some even offered tips. When an article was published, I found myself in a great position. My next query letter always thanked them for publishing my previous article. Sending a clip from their own magazine is a great tool, as well. It proves that you can work within the editor's requirements.

So was it successful? Oh, yes! I've published articles on business topics, food topics, parenting topics, bridal topics, etc. I've even successfully used this technique on the "Food" or "Life" section of smaller newspapers.

So stopping running in place, and try this new technique. The odds are in your favor.

Happy Writing!

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