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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
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.
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
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
Head 'em off at the
Before -- I'd visit every possible source,
tape and transcribe interviews, then somehow distill all that into a 1,000
Results: Wasted time, money, tapes,
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
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.
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
Multiple sales Make
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.
Before -- I sent each article to a magazine
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
Use letter-sized s.a.s.e.s for
Before -- I sent an 8" by 10" brown envelope
with each submission.
Results: Wasted postage, higher envelope
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
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
Results: Deadlines met, feelings of
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)
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