Home - Current or Back Issues - Article DB - Guideline DB - BLOG - Books

Articles Database                Share this article on Facebook

Playing the Odds
by Susan Denney

In my other life I teach high school, French to be exact. I care about my students and try to give them good counsel about the scholarships and contests which can help them finance college. It occurs to me that the advice that I give them applies to writers who want to make money as well.

My students are always tempted to apply for national scholarships that offer gazillions of thousands of dollars. The only problem with this is that there are gazillions of thousands of applicants and the forms these scholarships require are more complicated than your worst tax form nightmare.

How does this apply to the writing life? I think some writers who are trying to break into big high-paying markets are like my students who apply for those national scholarships. Sure, it would be great to publish your first short story in The Southern Review but realistically, the chances of that are small. If you are a non-fiction writer, it may be that the editors at Atlantic Monthly are staying awake at night waiting for your submission, but I doubt it.

My advice to my students is to look close to home. Our high school and local community offer many small scholarships that are easy to apply for and that have few applicants.

Writers can do this as well. Your chances of publishing your story in a smaller circulation or regional literary magazine are a lot better than in a prestigious national publication. Plus, some of those magazines have a distinct focus. You can aim your story at a specific topic or genre. There are hundreds of these markets and they all need writers. If you are persistent, you will find a place for your work.

Instead of cold calling national magazines with your non-fiction queries consider that your local newspaper may be actively seeking new voices. Send an editorial to your local rag. Your published editorial will give you confidence and exposure as well as influence over your own community. After breaking into print, you can offer to write a one-time column or feature for that local publication. This could earn you a check and that valuable clip that will help you break into bigger markets later.

If you enter writing contests, look for local competitions. Once you have found a contest in your region, learn to play the odds of winning. In a recent Oklahoma Writers' Federation contest, the short story competition received eighty-eight entries while the confession story and young adult short story competitions received twenty entries each. It doesn't take a calculator to figure out which categories provided the best chances of winning. Also, when choosing contests, always compare your entry fee to the monetary prize awarded. Is it really worth your time and effort?

Should you give up on the big contests and the big markets? Of course not! Someone has to write for them and it might be you. After my students have taken the time to apply for the scholarships that they have a good chance of winning, I encourage them to apply for the national ones as well. You should keep applying for those big markets and contests. But if you want to make money, you should spend the bulk of your precious time where it will pay off, close to home.

The last piece of advice I give my students is a truth so obvious that it hurts. Maybe you can see this one coming. If you don't turn anything in, you never get anything back. So class, you have homework.

© Copyright 2004, Susan Denney

Susan Denney is a freelance writer living in Pennsylvania. She has published children’s fiction and nonfiction as well as adult articles on a variety of topics. Check out her website at www.susandenney.com.

Other articles by Susan Denney :

Related articles:

Get your free subscription to our award-winning newsletter!
E-mail Address:


Receive the ebook
83 Ways to Make Money Writing
when you subscribe

Check out the latest articles in
How to Promote Your Book BLOG
Find out what works.

Join the Writing for DOLLARS! group on Facebook.

Writing for DOLLARS!
is a publication of
AWOC.COM Publishing.

Contact - About
©2017 AWOC.COM