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Ten Things That Can Go Wrong For a Freelance Writer
by Patricia Fry

You’re doing everything right; you’ve studied under the experts, you’ve been reading, you network with the right people and you put in time in the trenches. You’ve established yourself as a professional freelance writer. What can possibly go wrong? In a word, plenty.

I’ve been writing for publication for over 30 years and have encountered each of the following problems during my career. While some of them are avoidable (I’ll tell you how) and some of them can be remedied, others fall under the tough luck category. When you encounter a "tough luck" occurrence, the best thing to do is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on. Imagine this:

1: A twenty-year-old magazine, that you truly enjoy writing for, folds without warning and without having published your latest article. The worst of it is that you sent photographs with your article and now you can’t make contact with anyone who knows anything about your submission.

In the future: Maintain close contact with editors. Don’t allow more than a month to go by without receiving an update on your project. An impromptu phone chat might reveal the information you need to protect your interests. I generally don’t send photos until I know that the article has been received and is scheduled for publication. Then I alert the editor to the fact that the photos are on the way. Always duplicate photos before sending them.

2: You spend hours interviewing a fascinating woman tattoo artist. A local magazine issues you a contract and you write the article. But before the magazine gets around to publishing the piece, the woman closes up shop and moves out of the country.

What to do? Well, the regional magazine editor will no longer want to run the story, but you might be able to sell it to a national general interest, alternative lifestyles, art or trade magazine. Or tweak your article a little to fit a publication in the history category, military, health and fitness or young adult, for example.

3: You meet someone with an interesting story. You query an appropriate magazine and get the go ahead to submit an article. You do the interview, write the article and receive a rejection letter for your trouble. "Oh well," you sigh. "There are plenty of other magazines that would love this article." Wrong. You query your little heart out and get nothing but rejections. The subject of the story keeps asking you when the piece will be published. You feel embarrassed each time you have to tell him that you still haven’t found a publisher.

Should you vow never to try to place another profiles piece? You can if you want to. But, for the sake of your career, I’d suggest that you move on to something that will sell. When you have pockets of time, reexamine the original article. Compare it to appropriate writer’s guidelines and consider tweaking the piece to fit a particular magazine.

4: You are hired by a graphic designer to create copy for a company brochure he is designing for a client. You complete the job, and weeks later, he comes back with a request from the company for some changes to the text. You finish them right away. The guy who hired you is so close to deadline that he hastily makes the changes and sends the project to the printer. After 5,000 copies of the brochure are printed, the client finds several mistakes in the areas where last minute changes were made and they refuse to pay the graphic designer for the job.

The next time, insist upon seeing the project each and every time there is a change made to the text. Draw up a simple contract indicating that your payment is not contingent upon the graphic designer getting paid.

5: You are so excited about having one of your stories published that you sign a contract without paying much attention to it. Later, you decide that you want to include that story in an anthology, but realize that you have signed away all rights to it.

This happens more than you might imagine. Never, NEVER sell all rights to your work. All might not be lost, however. Contact the magazine publisher and ask if they will return the rights to you. Or completely rewrite the story.

6: You reject an offer of $2000 for an article by a major magazine because they want all rights even though they will return the rights to you 90 days after the work is published.

If you don’t understand the contract and the ramifications, take it to an intellectual properties attorney.

7: You learn that a particular magazine has a new editor. You neglect to contact him, however, because the former editor never published any of your work.

Always give a new editor a chance because he or she may just adore your style.

8: A magazine editor contacts you with a request to publish—not the article you pitched—but a clip you sent with your article submission. You freak out for fear that you will get in trouble for letting a second magazine use an already published article.

Calm down. Check to see what rights you sold to magazine number one. If you gave them first rights or one-time rights you can still sell reprint rights. Be sure to tell magazine editor number two that this is a reprint.

9: You are an expert on growing winter vegetables. You write an article for a popular gardening magazine featuring how to plant and tend a winter vegetable garden. Then you start looking for other topics to write about.

What should you do? Write more articles on your topic for this and other magazines. How about articles on postage stamp gardening, tips for protecting your garden from frost and greenhouse growing, for example. Approach the large number of regional magazines with custom articles on seasonal gardening for each area. One good idea might be worth a hundred articles.

10: You are hired by a client who wants you to "take a look" at her article, book proposal or a chapter of a book manuscript. You recommend several changes and offer suggestions for making the work read better. You return the work to your client with your editing suggestions. Weeks go by without a word from her.

Yes, she is probably displeased. She thought her work was better than it was and she highly resents receiving it back with all of those awful red marks. Wait a couple of weeks and then contact your client to ask if there is anything else you can help her with. Chances are that she will eventually contact you with high compliments for helping her create a more polished article. A client’s silence is difficult to endure. But sometimes they just need time to get over the sting of critique and recognize the value in your suggestions. I’ve had clients come back months later to thank me for pointing them in the right direction.

© Copyright 2005, Patricia Fry

Patricia Fry is a career writer, author, speaker and editorial/publishing consultant. She is the president of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) www.spawn.org and the author of 27 books, including The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book www.matilijapress.com/rightway.html. Visit her informative blog daily, www.matilijapress.com/publishingblog.

New book of cat stories
Patricia Fry announces her latest book: Catscapades, Tales of Ordinary and Extraordinary Cats www.matilijapress.com/catscapades.html.

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