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Free, Take One, and Get Paid
by Patricia Misiuk

They're near civic centers, post offices and shopping malls. And most of us seldom give them a fleeting glance or thought.

I once described them as rows of heavy metal housing mullet wrappers. In reality, though, the enclosed racks contain newspapers, real estate booklets and various free, take-one publications targeted at seniors, job seekers, auto shoppers, and even those itching to meet a mate.

During my pre-freelance days, I dashed past the racks without a moment's hesitation.

No more. Several years ago, a glow-in-the-dark green rack piqued my curiosity and activated my slot machine-pulling arm. The tabloids stacked inside offered not only ads but also articles. As I thumbed through the pages, a seed was germinating in the writer's lobe of my brain. The publication showcasing women who juggled careers, family life and volunteer activities lacked something. But what?

My analytical gene kicked into gear. Sure, there were in-depth features and columns focusing on nutrition, finances, travel, and entertainment. Yet, I wondered if I could amuse female readers with a proven stress buster: humor.

'Twas time to test the waters. To drag out the heavy artillery and pitch my proposal. My phone call to the editor verified that (1) the tabloid considered freelance submissions on speculation and (2) they did pay, though only pennies a word. She encouraged me to send three articles.

OK, so the tabloid's title wasn't a household word. And the pay wouldn't boost my income into a higher tax bracket. No matter. Writing is not a job but what I do, a calling that strengthens with each word. For the next week, my muse perched on my shoulder and programmed me into my wordsmith mode.

In my first piece, I described how my husband's moth-to-a-flame attraction for Christmas decoration sales resulted in our yard rivaling a four-million light display at Disney World. In another, recalling a "someday you'll laugh about this" experience, I gave a blow-by-blow account of a date found through a personals ad. And for my final article, the recent misplacement of my employee badge triggered a commentary about the laminated tags that have become an integral component of corporate fashion statements.

Even though I regard anything I write as a work in perpetual progress, I had fine-tuned the articles to the point of satisfaction. Then came the point of no return: dropping the envelope into the mailbox.

I had scoped out the publication in the oft-repeated mantra- research the market- and had customized the articles to that audience. Now I waited. Two days later when the editor phoned and offered me a column, "Musings" was launched. And now five years later, I still examine the lighter side of "some assembly required" home renovations, audio junk mail (telemarketers) and employee lounge refrigerators, just to mention a few.

I've expanded my horizons to include sales to several senior free, take-one magazines. These days my "Musings" columns appears in two tabloids. Sure, I've had my share of "does not meet our editorial needs" rejection slips. And others never respond. But I persist.

Soon I'll probably visit your city. And you'll know where to find me. I'll be near a shopping area and loading up on free, take-one publications.

Try it sometime. And return often. With each trip, you'll discover that the articles are more provocative, more informative. Why? Simply because they'll be personalized with your photo and byline.

Some free advice for those wanting to tap the free, take-one market.

1. All free, take-one publications are not created equal. Some magazines are replete with typos and ho-hum, sleep-inducing writing. Don't compromise your efforts and integrity in exchange for seeing your name, probably misspelled, in print.

2. Request an editorial calendar. If February's theme is romance, an article about raising homing pigeons won't fly.

3. Psych out the readers. Even if you don't live in the area of the free, take-one publication, the chamber of commerce and Internet are ideal sources for information such as demographics, industry, amenities and growth potential. Tailor your articles to the area.

4. They want it when? The "dog ate the homework" excuses don't apply. Don't miss a deadline. If you write a column, have a few spares in reserve.

5. A little flattery... Did their artwork capture the essence of your article? If so, mention it. Chances are, they'll request your input for future ideas.

6. And finally, deliver your personal best. The "be all than you can be" slogan of the military pertains to writing. The intangible rewards of a well-written piece go far beyond the paycheck.

© Copyright 2000, Patricia Misiuk

Patricia Misiuk could have been the sole interviewee for Studs Terkel's "Working." Her jobs have ranged from migrant work in New Zealand to the replenishment of sanitary products in the "Big Apple's" restrooms. When she grows up (she is 61) she wants to be a columnist. She still works at "McJobs" but "writing is what she does."

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