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5 Ways to Break the Rules and Break the Bank
by Jennifer Brown Banks

Most scribes I know adhere to the “cardinal rules” of writing more strictly than the 10 Commandments! Because experts and how-to gurus often give the impression that it’s the only path to publication. However, it’s not long before these wordsmiths discover that there are many roadblocks when venturing down the “traditional path.”

Perfectly crafted queries get them nowhere, and wild goose chases often leave them frustrated and questioning whether or not they have the talent to make it in this business.

Perhaps it’s even you. Take it from someone who knows—there’s a better way.

When I became a freelance writer 15 years ago, there were many obstacles facing me. At the time, I had never taken a class in writing, I had no college degree, no contacts or connections, and I hadn’t discovered my passion until much later in life!

What I did have was a business background and the realization that I had to be strategic in order to overcome what I viewed as potential setbacks.

To compensate for lost time and less experience, I learned to be more creatively clever than the next person. And it worked big time!

What I figured out along the way, is that sometimes “rules were meant to be broken” Here are a few that can increase your productivity and enhance your bottom line!

1. DON’T QUERY, BE HAPPY! Would you believe that I’ve sold about 400 articles, commentary pieces, short stories, and poems without ever once having written a query? Not one. Nada. The trick here is to request writers’ guidelines, produce your best work, research the publication’s archives, be unique, and know intimately the audience of the publications for which you target.

2. DON’T BE AFRAID TO “PUSH THE ENVELOPE” A LITTLE! Last year, an anthology publisher posted guidelines on an online bulletin board for an upcoming book that really bowled me over. I feverishly went to work, and submitted what I thought was a fantastic piece. There was just one problem. No matter how much weeding and revising I did, I couldn’t stay within their specified word count. For me, to dissect my story any more would take away some of the true essence of my work. My solution? I wrote a nice little cover letter to the editor explaining my dilemma. Guess what? The piece was purchased and was ultimately selected from out of more than 600 entries around the country.

3. KNOW THAT “NO” DOESN’T ALWAYS MEAN NO. As an avid reader, I sometimes enjoy writing book reviews. A local magazine that previously did not accept book reviews bought mine. The reason? It was well written, featured multiple titles, fit the slant of the magazine, and I had previously established a good working relationship with the editor.

Sometimes you never know until you try! But don’t be pushy or disrespectful. There is a difference.

4. WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW, BUT ALSO WRITE WHAT YOU’D LIKE TO DISCOVER. Never limit your creativity to things that you have prior knowledge of. You’ll miss out on some great fun and the opportunity to expand your knowledge base.

5. WRITE EVERYDAY? I wouldn’t dare dream of it! Truth is, sometimes my muse acts as rebellious as a teenager. The more I force, the more she holds out. Still, I do something each day to support my writing career. When I’m not crafting a piece, I read or research markets, or turn on the boob tube to be inspired. You should too!

Rules were indeed meant to be broken. And my long, successful career as a columnist, features writer, instructor, award-winning poet, and author is positive proof that it pays!

© Copyright 2006, Jennifer Brown Banks

Jennifer Brown Banks is the former senior editor of Mahogany Magazine. She holds a B.A. in Business Management and blogs at Penandprosper.blogspot.com

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