Yes, I’m working on a novel. And it’s coming along fine. But there’s still a long way to go until it is written, edited, published, and receiving splendid reviews and whopping cash advances from publishing houses.
Speaking of cash, I needed to generate some. I wanted to do it by writing something shorter than a great long novel. My friend suggested freelance writing. Editors are often looking for well-written articles for their magazines, he said.
Write about what interests you
OK, but what could I write about? I asked myself. I love research, I love the outdoors, and I love history. OK. My first step was coming up with an idea I thought would be fairly unique and interesting to people who also love those subjects. Once I had the idea, I fleshed out points that I wanted to cover in that article. I would return to those points later.
Find your audience
It may seem obvious but the magazines I routinely read generally carry pieces that interest me. It was a good bet, therefore, that something I had in mind for an article might appeal to the editor of that magazine too. I read quite a few recent articles, noting topics, the focus of the articles, and if any photographs accompanied the writing.
I paid close attention to the magazine’s specific submission requirements, as this can be a deal-breaker if these are not met. I noted the exact format, number of photos, and how long they wanted the article to be. By now I had a pretty good idea my story would be of interest to the editor, so the next step was to draft a “query letter”.
The query letter
Vital for any freelancer, the query letter saves you a lot of time by directly contacting the editor and asking if your article would be a fit for the magazine. The query letter I sent was framed from the points I had already fleshed out before, so the letter basically read like my opening paragraph to the article, framed as a question. The editor will know if the story has already been done, or if the subject matter will be interesting to his or her readership. I made sure I found out the editor’s name for the salutation.
Writing the piece
Once the editor got back to me with the green light for the article, I gathered all the information and sources available . My article centered around the history of a place built nearly 100 years ago, and there was not a lot on-line. I went to the local library, scoured through the Local History books and found the references I needed to round out my article. I went on site and took the photographs that I felt would augment the article. I gave a lot of thought to the arrangement of the photos as complements to the places and buildings my piece was describing, and I included some extra ones for the editor.
Then I had someone else proof-read the work! Fresh eyes always catch something – a typo or a sentence that needed clarity. Once I made the corrections, I sent the article off as per the submission outlines, and the deed was done.
All that remained was for the editor to read my submission, decide if he could use it, and email back with a nice acceptance note with the date the work would be published.
And that was how I sold my first freelance article.