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Making That First Sale
by Kathryn Lay

One of the most exciting sales for a writer is that very first sale. And sometimes, it’s the most difficult. I’ve known writers to sell their first submissions as well as those who have been submitting for years without making a sale. It can be discouraging and deadly for a beginning writer as they lose hope of every seeing their byline. Most often, when talking with new writers who are close to giving up after months or years without making a sale, I find that the majority are only submitting to the biggest and best publications. And they are submitting full-length articles or back page essays, competing with thousands of other writers for premier and high paying spots that only have a few spots a month open, perhaps one in the case of essays. So how can a new writer beat the odds and break into the magazine market? Here are a few areas to think about:

* New magazines – New magazines rarely have established writers unless they are all staff written. They don’t have a stockpile of manuscripts that they’ve already purchased. This is a great opportunity to get your work in front of an editor and show them what you can do. Check with friends who may have purchased a new magazine, watch the magazine racks at bookstores and grocery stores, watch for announcements in writing magazines.

* Magazines in change – When you learn about magazines where the owner, the editor, or the format has changed, this may be the perfect time to get in. They may be looking for fresh writers with new ideas to pump up their magazine. Read a couple of the new issues and get a feel for where their new focus lies.

* Magazines upping their frequency – If you hear of a magazine that goes from a quarterly publication to monthly, or annually to quarterly and so on, they will need more submissions. Make sure to understand what they need, but don’t hesitate to make yourself and your writing known.

* Small magazines – When you’re first beginning, work on getting your byline. It doesn’t mean you need to give all your writing away for free, but find smaller publications that, even though they pay little, will give you a byline and sales under your belt. Even a $10 first sale is enough to keep a new writer from throwing in the towel.

* Local publications – Check your local newspaper, magazines, and specialized papers. They are often thrilled to work with local authors. One of my first and most fun sales was a humor column on local events and everyday things happening to me in my area for a small local newspaper. I sent in 3 sample columns, got an appointment with the editor, and talked her into $15 a week as opposed to her offer of doing the column for free. It lasted a year as a bi-monthly column, giving me much needed experience and bylines. I later resold several of the columns to magazines.

* Trade Journals that you are familiar with in your work or hobbies. Do you take magazines that pertain to your job or hobby? Why not write for them? My love for carousels led me to a magazine for merry-go-round enthusiasts. After several issues, I knew I’d love to sell them an article. I knew a local amusement park had recently refurbished an antique carousel. I found out who led this project and interviewed him. I ended up with a wonderful article that included pictures I took of the finished carousel and donated photos of the work in progress.

* Fillers: Most magazines have places for fillers. Humor, informational tidbits, helpful suggestions, facts, etc. Children’s magazines look for puzzles, rebus’, crafts, and more. Though the pay is sometimes small, most provide a byline and a check. Think of tips for how you do projects better, faster, easier. Travel tips. Parenting tips. Short how-to’s. Funny happenings.

As you work on new ways to make your first sale, try these 4 ideas:

1. Target your work. Don’t just write a piece and shot put it to the biggest magazine around. Choose a magazine and an area of writing in their publication and target a piece for it.

2. Be flexible and open. Don’t shoot down the idea of writing a free column or selling an essay for $50 to a small anthology rather than for $1500 to Woman’s Day. It doesn’t hurt to start at the top, but if that doesn’t work, be willing to do what you can to get those first bylines.

3. Advertise yourself. Build a website. Get business cards mentioning that you are a writer and give them to people you meet who might need someone to put together their company’s newsletter.

4. Network. Find and join a local writing group or club, attend conferences, join writing lists and make acquaintances and friends. I’ve found many of my writing projects through others who have recommended me or invited me to write for them. I’ve learned about a lot of markets this way. I found my agent because of a generous online acquaintance who recommended me to her.

Everyone is a beginning writer at first. Try new ways to make that first sale. And when you do, celebrate and do it again.

© Copyright 2005, Kathryn Lay

Kathryn Lay is the author of 26 books for children, over 2000 articles, essays and stories for children and adults and the book from AWOC.COM Publishing, The Organized Writer is a Selling Writer. Check out her website at www.kathrynlay.com and email through rlay15@aol.com

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