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What Selling 600 Articles Taught Me: Write Smart
by Carolyn Campbell

Along with the fascination, fulfillment and financial rewards, writing is a time-consuming pursuit in many ways. It takes time to research, interview, write and market the written word. And uncertainties of the writing profession often make it difficult to determine where time is best spent. Writers ask themselves, "Will this article sell?" "Should I continue writing my novel, or will I make more money if I switch to a nonfiction book?" What can I do today to gain financial success from my writing next week?"

I feel that using writing time effectively is an excellent tool toward maximizing success and productivity in a writing career. Over seventeen years, I have developed the following methods of writing smart to make my writing endeavors move more quickly and to achieve financial success.

Wait for assignments.

Before -- I'd interview, write articles and try to sell them.

Results: Wasted hours, unsold pieces, interviewees disappointed over unsold stories.

Now -- I choose a main interview source with credentials relevant to my topic who speaks in visual, specific terms. I interview briefly to gather essential query facts, then tell my main source I'll call back if I get the assignment. I write no more until then.

Results: Assigned stories take less time. Lower postage, ink cartridge and paper expenses.

Phone interviews save time.

Before -- I'd tape each in-person interview.

Results: While I met the source, and obtained exact quotes, travel time, gas money, child care costs and emotional trauma from tape recorder failure were high. Transcribing tapes consumed still more time.

Now -- I type responses into my word processor while interviewing by phone.

Results: I finish multiple interviews daily and print out my notes immediately. If an answer seems incomplete, a simple phone call verifies information.

Follow gut instincts.

Before -- if my neighbor said his Aunt Ida had a fascinating life, I'd interview her. Even if my gut instinct was to pass, I'd write the story anyway.

Results: Aunt Ida stories often resulted in awkward situations where my neighbor asked if the story sold, and he and Aunt Ida shared the private opinion that I'm not a good writer. Actually, it could be a case of right story--wrong writer. I've finally learned to trust my instinct about which stories come to life for me.

Now -- I'd telephone Aunt Ida to discreetly determine if her life held one "writable" incident, and try to confine it to a single sentence--Aunt Ida saves a man from drowning. With that angle, I'd query. With no apparent angle, I'd tell her that I'm unable to write her story now because of other commitments. That's true--I'm committed to stories my instinct says will sell.

Results: More sales--fewer strained relations!

Head 'em off at the pass.

Before -- I'd visit every possible source, tape and transcribe interviews, then somehow distill all that into a 1,000 word article.

Results: Wasted time, money, tapes, paper.

Now -- With an article assignment, I telephone one main source for an in-depth interview and ask him to recommend additional sources for other brief interviews. Then I outline to determine if further interviews are necessary, and conduct one telephone interview at a time, adding information until the article is complete.

Results: More articles completed, time saved.

Focus on completing projects.

Before -- I monitored mailed articles and called editors who did not reply after two months.

Results: Time spent waiting on the phone while editors resented looking for my work.

Now -- I focus on completing and mailing manuscripts. If I haven't heard in six months, I resubmit.

Results: Greater productivity

Run your own race.

Before -- if I was working on an article about infertility and saw a published one, I'd give up.

Results: Discouragement

Now -- if I'm writing an article about infertility and such an article appears in Redbook, I choose a genre such as the general interest, child care, or inspirational market. Then, after selling in other market areas, I send my article to a woman's magazine other than Redbook with greater chances of selling.

Results: Less discouragement, greater productivity

Multiple sales Make Money

Before -- I sold each article once.

Results: Low income per hours spent

Now -- as soon as an article is published, I resubmit elsewhere. More and more magazines buy "one time rights" allowing multiple sales. It's safest when markets don't "cross"--in other words, when a reader is not likely to read my story in two magazines. With multiple sales, I send off the entire article to smaller magazines, whose lower budget makes them more likely to buy a complete piece, and my query to larger magazines, who will likely prefer to dictate style and length of a finished article.

Results: Multiple checks for an article written only once.

Hit em again....harder.

Before -- I sent each article to a magazine once.

Results: Limited marketing

Now -- after rejection, I send the article to another magazine immediately. If that magazine also rejects, I consider shortening or changing it, then resubmit to another market. If six months pass without a sale, I rewrite and resubmit--to any magazines I haven't tried as well as to publications where I've submitted previously.

Results: Magazines such as Family Circle, and Guideposts have published previously-rejected articles.

Use letter-sized s.a.s.e.s for replies.

Before -- I sent an 8" by 10" brown envelope with each submission.

Results: Wasted postage, higher envelope costs,.

Now -- unless the article has many pages or is a fresh copy, I send a letter-sized s.a.s.e., indicating in my cover letter that my copy of the article need not be returned. I submit via the Internet when I can, which saves both time and postage.

Results: Money saved!

Plan a weekly mail day.

Before -- queries and finished manuscripts waited until I found a convenient time to mail.

Results: Wasted time

Now -- I have a weekly "post office day" when I submit articles and query letters. This "deadline" incentive helps me complete work.

Results: Deadlines met, feelings of accomplishment.

The above techniques will help you gain a measure of control in an unpredictable industry, and allow you to pursue potentially profitable ideas by sifting through many ideas to determine which ones hold potential sales for you. When deciding whether to pursue a project or task, ask yourself if it will move your career forward and if there is a faster way to complete it. Good luck and happy writing!

© Copyright 2001, Carolyn Campbell

Carolyn Campbell is the author of the books, Reunited: True Stories Of Long Lost Siblings Who Find Each Other Again and Love Lost and Found: True Stories Of Long Lost Loves Reunited at Last (Penguin-Putnam)

Other articles by Carolyn Campbell :

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