4 proven ways to sell 75%+ of your freelance writing

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MAGAZINES and NEWSPAPERS

 

1. Here is the two-item formula for selling nonfiction copy to magazines and newspapers: (a) You sell more than 75% of your freelance writing by writing only when you have better than a 50% chance of a sale, and (b) You have better than a 50% chance of a sale by either querying your prospective market, and writing after you receive a positive reply, or by writing to markets where you can simultaneously submit the same manuscript.

2. You can also increase your sales percentage and income by simultaneously selling reprints or rewrites of the published material—or reprints of the rewrites[Reprints, Rewrites, Reprints of Rewrites, and Resales].

3. Fiction is excluded from this 75% claim in magazines, newspapers, and books. Nonetheless, if points made on these pages seem appropriate to selling your fiction, try them, but know that the selling ratio in fiction is very low.

4. The most important tool for selling to magazines is the query letter. [25 Professional Query and Cover Letters] You do not query to newspapers (except to their magazines); you need cover letters to sell to them. If you are selling to big-house book publishers, at least a query letter is required. If you are niche publishing and pre-testing, you will need a sales letter, a small note, and a prepaid response mailer.

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NEWSPAPERS

 

5. Usually the copy (and accompanying photos) sold to newspapers will be about travel [How to Sell 75% of Your Travel Writing, editorial commentary, food, reviews, and (very rarely) columns. That’s about all newspapers buy from freelancers. Mostly they buy travel.

6. You are more likely to sell to newspapers (particularly in travel) if your piece is short (600-1500 words; 1200 words is a good target) rather than long (to about 3000 words). The longer feature articles are usually written by the section editor, or one from another publication.

7. You can simultaneously submit the same material (copy and photos) to newspapers (unless they tell you no) if they are not “national” newspapers—like the New York Times, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and Newsday, where you submit to them one at a time—or where the newspapers overlap in prime circulation (usually within 100 miles of each other), where you submit to only one newspaper at a time in the circulation radius.

8. Study others’ in-print newspaper articles in your target selections and write (and punctuate) like the original writers did to get in print. Focus on the topics [Finding Topics That Make Your Articles Indispensable], conciseness, quotes, timeliness, length of paragraphs, and the writing voice of the articles. The voice means: first person, I; second person, you; third person, he/she/it. (You mostly write salable copy in third person.)

9. Send your newspaper copy, ready to use, to the respective section editor with a cover note/page that tells the unique features in the copy, its timeliness, your credits (in a phrase: “I’ve sold 600 newspaper travel pieces”—don’t lie, say nothing if it’s nothing or very modest), any exceptional photos, how to get back to you—email and phone, and that you are marketing simultaneously (no nationals; to you solely within a 100-mile radius). If you are sending to a national newspaper, submit to one at a time (until bought). To national newspapers (or those few that insist), you are selling first rights to them only.

10. If you have the respective section editor’s newspaper email address, send your submission digitally—the cover note/page, text, and sample photos or link to a sample photo page. If you don’t, snail mail your submission to that editor, and include an SASE (stamped, self-address envelope). If that editor replies by email, you then have their email address. Remember to write out the full address to the photo links.

11. Assuming your salable photos are .jpegs, in your cover note (a) offer to send them if they want to review them, but you can briefly describe one or two extraordinary shot(s) in the note, (b) include a b/w or color page with samples of the best 6 or so with the note, or (c) post the best you have, very best first, on a cloud or website page where they can link and peruse. Let them pluck what they want to use and pay as the piece and art are published.

12. There is no firm photo submission protocol, so use the publication’s guidelines—or common sense. (Sometimes the guidelines are listed in Google—or the editor will tell you if you ask.) Let the editors decide if they will use the shot(s) in b/w or color. With the camera, seek clarity, get bright colors, focus on key items you wrote about. Remember, in newspapers, particularly for shorter submissions, the text is what they buy. (They might buy photo-first if you have an original shot of Napoleon—or something like that, or older.)

13. Newspapers pay from about $100-225 for short items, $200-500 for longer pieces. They pay after the submission is published. For photos, it may range from $35-150. But some may pay less for the items above and some of the larger newspapers will pay more. You have no bargaining power here but if you sell often to the same newspaper, the editor sometimes increases the pay as your value to them increases.

14. Do you see how selling simultaneously to newspapers lifts you well above the 75%+ goal? If you send a sharp article to six cities all distant from each other and four buy it (some with photos), you have sold the article 400%! It’s hard to top that sales ratio. What a shame that the articles themselves don’t pay much more…

 

MAGAZINES

15. Magazines do pay more. You usually know their pay range (several hundred to a thousand dollars and up) and the size articles they seek because most of the magazines that you will write for are found in the current-year Writer’s Market (in print or online version). That and a ton more information is explained in WM, so you should have that source accessible where you write. Also, if you check Writer’s Digest Magazine (in the library) it lists new markets every month—and updates current listings.

16. To get on the 75% magazine path find an idea you want to write about, then create a feasibility study. Think of the study as two boxes next to each other, both sharing the same idea. In one box you answer, “Is this topic feasible to write for X magazine?” In box two you answer “Is it feasible to sell an article about this topic?” If it’s a “yes” to both, you will write a query letter to the #1 market. (See “How to Prepare and Market Magazine Articles That Sell.”)  [Travel Writer’s Guide, ebook edition]

17. There is no need for a feasibility study for newspaper direct submissions because you will know if it’s feasible to write because you will, in fact, write it and send the prose to one or many markets simultaneously. And if it sells, that’s your answer to the second box.

18. To answer box 1, see if and where magazine articles appeared in print about your topic. Find copies of those articles and study what they contain. (See “How to Study a Printed Magazine Article.”) [Travel Writer’s Guide, ebook editionYou will likely need updated information, new quotes, or new examples to add to the information already in print. See if you have or can get access to that new information. If nothing has been in print, study the topic and list what readers would want to read about it. This should take several hours, not weeks or years. If you have a strong sense that if you queried an editor about that topic knowing what you can provide that he/she would say “yes, then move on to box 2.

19. “Who would buy an article about this topic?” is the focus of box 2. See the many categories of publications in the WM table of contents and list those where your topic might appeal to its readers. Let’s say there are six such categories; list all of them. Then go to the listed publications in each category and write down the magazine titles in that category where you think the reader’s interest would be greatest. Let’s say there are two magazines in each category, so you would end up with 12 possible magazines to query before you write.

20. Because you can only query one magazine at a time from your 12 possible candidates, you must prioritize the 12. Put the most likely first and the least likely last, and sort the rest in between. What criteria do you use to prioritize the list?

21. If you want to top a 75% sales plateau, then when the editors of those magazines pay for articles is the most important criterion. So put all of those that “pay on acceptance” (this information is in the WM) at the top of the list. Paid freelancers only query editors who pay on acceptance since that means if they accept your manuscript, you will be paid right away or within a month (when they churn that month’s checks). The other editors “pay on publication,” which means your finished manuscript (and photos) will sit in that editor’s “to use” pile until it fits, and then you will be paid after it sees print, which means another additional 60 days to get your reward. Even worse, those that pay on publication usually pay less, and a rare few forget to pay at all.

22. So once you know when your 12 possible markets pay, list the pay on acceptance publications on top (say six of them), with the remaining six that pay on publication on the bottom. Now ask the second question, “How much do they pay?” The highest payer of the first six candidates goes to the top of the list, the lowest payer is #6. (Don’t worry about the last six on the list right now.)

23. There are two more criteria that could move your target markets up or down. One asks, “What percent of freelance material do they buy?” The other, “How many issues do they publish a year?” Clearly, you’d rather be considered by an editor that uses 95% freelance copy than, say, 5%. The same with a magazine that comes out weekly rather than annually—it buys 52 times more copy! Resort the top six into their most desirable order—for you.

24. Now you are ready to query. You will write a full-page letter asking the editor of the top magazine on your prioritized list if she would be interested in an article about ______. (The query letter will make the topic jump with excitement and the editor jump with hope to get your writing genius on her pages.) If, in truth, the editor says “yes, let me see it,” that’s almost as good as putting the money in your bank because the “go-ahead (and write it)” is given seriously, with the expectation that you will provide ready-to-go copy that fits in the slot saved for you. But if the editor says “no,” however kindly, you will move to #2 on your list, read its write-up in the WM, and send its editor a query letter (often adjusted some to meet that new readership’s needs). You keep moving down the top six until you are out of “pay on acceptance” rejecters.

25. Why not just continue down the list of publication editors for this new article? It’s not worth the time for the risk involved. You will sell your reprints (or reprints of rewrites) to the bottom six. That’s what they often, sometimes only, buy. Better yet, you can sell reprints (or second rights) simultaneously as long as you tell the others that yours is a second rights sale.

26. A couple more points. Let’s say the first “acceptance” editor wants your article. Have you lost the buying potential of markets 2-6? No, just approach the topic from another slant or create another article idea from that topic, and query about that possible article. In other words, you can rewrite that first topic and query letter and start it down the selling ladder to those “pay on acceptance” editors that are still uncontacted. And what if you do that all six times and all six editors buy their own unique articles? Bingo, you just sold the same stretched idea 600%, rather than 75%. (And you’re still not done because each of those six articles can be sold as reprints of the rewrites! Heavens, you may get rich with just five or six different, fecund ideas!

27. But we are getting the cart in front of the horses. All we have done is have a kindly editor say that he/she wants to see our article—on speculation, which means, no obligation. So we still have to write one or many excellent articles that the editor(s) must embrace, buy, and use. Still, a “go-ahead” from most editors means a sale as long as you provide (in the article) what you promised by the date agreed, and perhaps also with the promised photos.

28.. Which means enough late-night oil, interviews, facts found and verified, anecdotes generously inserted—whatever is needed to make the article hum in print. It also means close scrutiny of the target magazine to see what that editor wants on his/her pages before you write. Thus, if this query-led system is followed, almost all magazine articles suggested and written will be sold since you will not write them without a prior ”go-ahead.” And with the reprint and rewrite fall-back sales, you should be far ahead of your 75% goal.

 

BOOKS

 

29. It used to be that selling any percent of your freelance writing through book publishing was as likely as having your books come out of a cloud. Guess what? Now it’s simple to publish 100% of your freelance book writing—you can just do it yourself. And it can sit in a cloud to sell once it’s written and prepped. Who knew?

30. Less than a decade back the chances of the Big 8 or 5 or whatever the number was of the big-house publishing firms picking up a random freelance book was like 1:1000. Even with agents or even with a solid writing reputation. Then you sent query letters with attachments.. You may as well have been sending pick-up laundry chits.

31. These days it’s hard to figure any strong case for going first to the big houses (which simply aren’t so big anymore nor are they so appealing). They pay poorly, it can take months or years for the book to appear, and their bookstore allure has faded as the bookstores themselves have disappeared. It’s kind of upside down now. Freelancers publish the book themselves [How to Get Your Book Published in Minutes and Marketed Worldwide in Days]  and they earn a fast and decent return. Then if it smells of success the big houses will get in line to pay for the product—and often all the additional products that writer/publisher can create. So why would a freelancer go back to the earlier days when a big-house sale meant a meager royalty, poor sales, payment a couple of times a year, and no control?

32. If we are talking sheer percentages, you write a book that others want to buy; get it proofread; hire artwork and covers and some selling postcards; get the book designed; print some in-house stock to sell directly; save the final copy in .pdf, and send it to Create Space and LSI to get it POD printed and sold commercially through their giant selling machines, like Amazon and Ingram. In the meantime, you convert the original text into .epub, modify the covers a bit, and you create an ebook to sell yourself, at Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, and elsewhere. And all the while you worm your way into the social media world to churn up some fan interest.

33. There are two ways to sell 75%+ in the regular book world now. The new open publishing world I described in 29-32. And you can do it the old way too. You sell the book to the big houses or other publishers pretty much the old way: you send queries and packages and proposals, alone or agent-aided, and you don’t write the final book until you are contract-protected, then you wait for the book to appear. That’s a 75%+ approach. Hard to imagine 25% of the publishers wouldn’t honor your contract.

34. But here’s the problem, even if you freelance and produce one book and you have another produced by an established publisher under contract (which is 75%+ twice), there’s no guarantee that any of that will make enough money to keep you fed, much less famous and prospering. So despite the fact that you bat 100% selling the copy that you create, and you do it many times with paperback and digital versions, all sold by six different publishers (plus you), most of the self-published general market books don’t make much money. They don’t even do much to imprint a perception of your expertise. Stir in platform-building, branding, You-Tube, Facebook, and all the rest and can still be a big disappointment.

 

NICHE (BOOK) PUBLISHING

and EMPIRE-BUILDING

 

35. Let me share the best way to sell 100% of your freelance book writing and make reliable money while you simultaneously build an empire that will feed, clothe, and support you very well for a long time. It can be built around your book or books—or you may not have to write much copy at all. You might use others’ expertise and writing, plus your editing, managing, and publishing skills, as the core of his niche publishing. [Niche Publishing: Publish Profitably Every Time]

36. It’s not the writing or publishing, per se, that distinguish niche publishing. It’s the existence of a niche, or tightly-linked group of people, that share common needs, interests, and lifestyle. For example, Chicago Cubs fans are a long-suffering niche. So are dentists, Norwegian ancestors in Wisconsin, and meat cutters. The niche often has a vocation, hobby, focus of interest, ethnic bond, social communality (like octogenarians or octogenarians in Tulsa), an ailment or cure (like prostate cancer survivors), or membership (in the Moose or in almost any thing or group.)

37. This might be easier to envision by using an example. To keep it simple, let’s use ultramarathoners, and let’s make that nationwide. And let me invent typical components of a niche and ascribe them to the poor sore-legged ultramarathoners (who share in common long-distance running, longer than a marathon, often 50-mile or 100-mile runs). They can be done by either sex and any age, though it’s not likely they are teens or under or very rarely 65 or older.

38. What makes niche publishing profitable is that members of the niche and supporters about the niche topic can be easily contacted. Core ultras, let’s say, are members of a national association (UOA, Ultramarathoners of America) and smaller associations in, say, 40 states (Minnesota UOA, etc.) The associations have a national convention, 18 have state conferences, and they informally gather at the dozen major races a year. They also have a national newsletter, office holders in the larger units, a membership address list (digital and standard direct mail) and a surprisingly large group of ultra aficionados and supporters who sell products and services (like special shoes, attire, diet and health additive programs, insurance, and much more. And as long as I am creating a model group, let’s say there are 25,000 members and possibly 2,000 others who sell products and services to ultras, plus many thousands of marathoners who regularly show interest in expanding their own running challenge.

39. To show you what a niche published book might be like in this niched setting, let’s say Bob has been an UOA member for 10 years—and, in vocation, he’s a life-style nutritionist. Over the years he has created an ideal diet-supplement-training program that has been very enthusiastically used by a dozen of his local group members, plus it has become widely applied by marathoners in his region. Let’s just call it the DST for Ultramarathoners (or DSTU).

40. Bob wants to write a book, sell it to ultras and marathoners nationwide (he calls it DSTM for marathoners), and he’d like to expand the book into classes, perhaps podcast/video components, a practice logbook and workshops, speeches, and breakout sessions. He would also like to expand his product base to include distance-running shoes, attire, special caps, and related diet and supplement components.

41. His strategy is to create the book first, and in its distribution (and early promotion) he will quickly expand into making his video/podcast programs and logbooks available. From his niche book he will roll out his empire to include speaking widely once the book is printed and promoted, and from speaking spread into workshops and classes. As he creates his buyer contact base (mostly through free subscriptions to a bi-monthly ultra newsletter) he will promote his product base. His long-range goal is to expand these activities into the DSTM group, for marathoners nationwide (even perhaps worldwide).

42. An aside here. Bob in our example can both be the expert writing the key book that helps practitioners meet important needs or solve frustrations and then build his own empire from the expertise recognition that his book brings him. Or if Bob wants to create his own empire doing the other activities we’ve mentioned, including publishing the book, he can hire an expert to write the book (that Bob might also edit and distribute) that his new ultramarathoning publishing and product company can grow from. Thus Bob wouldn’t really be using his running expertise—freeing any niche publisher to do the same about any topic. In fact, Bob could publish a string of ultra books using as many experts as members of his publishing family. How would the experts earn money? They would receive royalties (often 10% of the net received) plus they would get the speaking fees, and perhaps a special discount on their own books (or all the firm’s ultra books) sold back-of-the-room at the programs. A last thought, he could run parallel publishing programs in the ultra and marathoning fields, allowing him to double or multiply his empire-building base while the experts create the core books.

43. But the most appealing element of a niche publishing book is that it can be pre-tested (the format, price, contents, author, and purpose) on a sample list to guarantee its financial viability before any part of it is written or major production expenses are incurred. [How to Test Your Niche (Publishing) Market First]

44. Bob sees that the size of the ultra market (its contactable members) is 25,000, and that the three other ultra books have cost $19.95, $24.95, and $49. He decides to conduct a direct mail pre-test with 210 Nth-selection addresses from the ultra association mailing list. He figures that the entire pre-test might cost him a maximum of $700.

45. For the pre-test he needs a clean-looking one-page information sheet (with a reduced book cover on it) that includes the book’s title, subtitle, table of contents, a small photo to accompany Bob’s bio, an fact box (with ISBN, format [cloth bound], and the estimated number of pages and cost), and selling content copy that explains the book’s purpose and its benefits to readers/users. He also prepares a one-third page greeting note and a return postcard with two key questions, each followed by yes or no: would the card receiver be interested in purchasing a book about… and if so, would he pay $ X for the book. In this case X would be three different prices: 70 packets would have $19.95 on their info sheet and on its mail-back postcard, 70 would say $24.95, and 70 would say $29.95). The postcards would be addressed back either to Bob or (better) the name of his new niche publishing firm (like Ultramarathoning Publishers of America). Bob would also prepare a #10 envelope for each packet, stamp them, and adhere the direct mail address to the outside of the packet.

46. So Bob mails all 210 packets and in 20 days he has almost all of the replies he will receive. By day 20 he has received the following responses from each of the three price levels sent 70 recipients: 13, 10, and 7. So the potential buy income would be, respectively: $92,768, $81,196, and $74,875. (The calculating example in the 10-buyer case would be 10/70=14.3%x$24.95×25,000=$81,196).

47. The most profitable rate would be $19.95 which would bring in $92,768. Thus, if the preparation of the book and the mailing of the full 25,000 packets cost 50% of the gross income (here, $92,768) this book would result in a profit of $46,384.

48. It would be a modest empire with a kitty of $40,000 or so. But remember that Bob intends to expand into classes, videos, logbooks, workshops and speeches, ultra accoutrement, and diet and health additive programs. Plus a free digital newsletter to control his customer list and for bi-monthly promotion.

49. But what isn’t visible here is a huge market sitting right below the ultras: the U.S. marathon market, where indeed his book might apply as is or rewritten, and the other items should also be salable. How big is the marathon market? There were 541,000 finishers in US marathons in 2013 (despite the terror attack at the Boston Marathon). And the average entry cost is $75, but trending up to $100. A determined niche publisher might tooth on the ultramarathoners to test the market and response, then quickly back into the marathon world—and keep both going if there are common themes.

50. That’s it. How you can sell 75%+ of your freelance writing. At least three systems (or four, depending on how you count them) that will keep you off the no-income paths and close to where money can be earned and multiplied by wordsmithing. All of this stuff works–if you do!

 

My best wishes,

 

Gordon Burgett

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