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Tips for Going Global
by Beth Fowler

When editors in other lands see your work, they ask, "Is this foreign writer professional?" And "Does this foreigner's work fit our publication?"

Read on to learn how to get a si, oui, ja and hai.

Multiply earning power: I sold one article to magazines in Australia, Malaysia and the United States. By offering rights to one country at a time (i.e. First Australian Rights), you can re-sell an article to different countries. Offering reprint rights multiplies the earning power of one article, too. The chances of, for instance, a reader in Scotland seeing the article reprinted in New Zealand is so remote that editors of national publications accept second or reprint rights.

Write their way: "Study our publication before submitting," is excellent advice for global freelancers to follow before sending manuscripts over the border.Is it travelled or traveled, lift or elevator? Style preferences are in submission guidelines, but basics that citizen writers know aren't.

Malaysia and Australia, two English-speaking countries use British spellings. The Philippines and Taiwan use American spellings in English-language publications. Find help with American and British spellings at http://www.planetware.com/briteqiv.htm.

Manage metaphors: UN members published a document depicting an owl to symbolize wisdom. The image flopped because in Asia owls symbolize stupidity. Metaphors, similes, idioms, clichés, slang and jargon are gobbledygook when symbols have unintended connotations. Avoid them.

Cite specifics: In anticipation of a trip to England, a Bombay couple scanned a travel article. The British author characterized London in July as "red hot." The Indians shivered for a fortnight because London temperatures never rose above 50 F (10 C).

Global freelancers replace relative words (hot, heavy, tiny, expensive) with specifics (32 C, five tons, one centimeter, HKD$200,000).

Write comparisons of relative scale that appeal to readers' experience. For instance, because Indonesians play badminton more often than basketball, a Western journalist writing for a Jakarta newspaper described a building as "five times the length of a badminton court."

Convert consistently: I've received manuscripts with inconsistent measurement systems. Inches inch along with centimeters (and centimetres), Fahrenheit warms up to Celsius, and miles travel with kilometers. Global freelancers use the system the publication uses and are consistent within one document. On the other hand, international publications include two measurements, as in "A 20-mile (32-km) path follows the coast."

Global writers specify which country's dollars are quoted by inserting the country's name as in "$5 million Hong Kong," or "HKD$5 million," or including a statement: "All prices in Hong Kong dollars." Find currency and measurement converters a http://www.convertit.com/Go/ConvertIt.

Hold the humor: A Singaporean reading an Australian editorial remained stone-faced at the journalist's supposedly humorous reference to Kerry Packer's weight. Who's Kerry Packer? What's weight got to do with anything? Trans-cultural humor requires intimate knowledge of psychology, zeitgeist, politics, history and language. What's so funny about a chicken crossing the road?

If an amusing anecdote is integral to developing a theme, recruit a local from the country whose ribs you hope to tickle to review the piece. Rewrite or delete accordingly.

Gesture judiciously: Describing gestures adds life to personality profiles and fictional characterizations, but gestures don't necessarily impart universal meanings. Thrusting fingers upward in a V signifies an insult, victory, two or peace, depending on where thrusting occurs!

When gestures are important, global freelancers include explanations that flow naturally in context. ("Making a circle with finger and thumb, the captain indicated that the trip was successful.")

Be worldly: I once read a query promoting an area of India as an ideal tourist destination …never mind that two so-called religious factions were killing each other's devotees. Worldly freelancers demonstrate global awareness and intercultural sensitivity. Being worldly means not sending pork recipes to a publication with a Muslim audience and not using nicknames (Yank, wetback). Lazy journalists use phrases such as "inscrutable Chinese" and "friendly natives." Being worldly means banishing dogmas, romanticized images, stereotypes and prejudices. Read articles about cultural customs at http://www.executiveplanet.com.

Write the truth: Hundreds of magazine and newspaper editors speaking about what they look for in articles concurred, "We are unhappy with writers who get their facts wrong."

Don't assume that a "fact" in magazines, newspapers and on TV is accurate. Inaccuracies get repeated. Calling a monstrous hodgepodge "Frankenstein" is a common mistake. Frankenstein was the monster's creator's name. The monster killed his creator, therefore, Frankenstein is a person who is destroyed by his own works.

Re-verify facts with interviewed subjects, check multiple and unbiased sources, proofread final drafts against your original notes, and ask a nitpicking, skeptical, truthful reader to review your manuscript. Check on-line reference resources such as http://www.refdesk.com.

Write the right editor: You live in France. You want to pitch an idea about hand-knit sweaters to Gentleman's Quarterly. A query addressed generically to "Dear Editor" shouts "Amateur!" So you open GQ and see 28 editors listed. Six handle fashion. One is the "European Editor." Aim for editor-in-chief, and you risk irritating this VIP who'd delegated some of his editorial load to capable sub-editors, and you risk snubbing the fashion editor and the European editor.

Some individuals of the editorial team might have left from the time the magazine you have was published, so verifying the appropriate recipient is wise in any case. Contact the magazine and ask to whom to address your query. If you send something to the managing editor and an assistant editor replies, continue communications at that level.

Nancy Flannery, an Australian journalist, author, editor and publisher, told "Southern Write" (www.sawriters.on.net) readers, "Attention to detail, visualizing the needs of the reader as well as conforming to the publication's house style, integrity of one's own voice, reasonable observance of spelling, grammar and syntax rules are surely still important. If text doesn't flow and doesn’t have entertainment or information value, then it won't be read."

She ought to know. Nancy received her first check (that's cheque Down Under) for writing when she was 12 years old…that's more than sixty years of writing for dollars.

© Copyright 2003, Beth Fowler

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