How you can sell your articles 150% of the time…

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I know, 150% of the time?

Yes, it could be much, much higher, but it seems imprudent to scare you in the title.

Let’s focus on magazines here, where the pay is higher and acceptances are harder to get.

(Selling newspaper travel is easier and the possible sales ratio is higher too, but the pay is very modest. The process? Find a fetching location with something new, write a 1200-word “second” article, don’t send to the nationals, and keep the submissions 100 miles from each other. A photo or two sometimes helps. Write it once and submit it simultaneously, and since you wrote it once and if you sell it, say, four times, that’s 400%. My Travel Writer’s Guide, available only as an ebook now, at $10, tells all.)

With magazines there are no grapeshot submissions, the competition is tougher, the article space rarer, and you must change hats to earn that extra 50%–but often you can stick with the same topic!

Getting on their pages depends very much on how you ask. (If you don’t ask the editor in advance–you just write something and send it in–your selling percentage plummets, or you’re selling wee items now and then for wee pay.) For a full article you must ask the editor if you can send your masterpiece (but don’t call it a masterpiece). You need a “go-ahead,” a positive response to get through the buying gate. A go-ahead isn’t acceptance—yet. It says that the editor agrees to give your idea and its preparation full consideration for one of the 4-8 article slots still open for a coming issue. (The copy will probably be in print several or many months away). In other words, you write it and in the “let me see it” response the editor is saying “I’m interested enough to give it full consideration.” Not an assignment but if you do it right it’s almost a sale.

What is “doing it right”?

1. Probably half of your selling time is spent pre-query, the other half is sending on time what you promised in the query. (A day late, the ship probably hasn’t sailed. No apologies, but scold yourself. Late a week or more, wave goodbye—and stay out of that editor’s sight for 18 months or longer.)

2. Find a topic that is irresistible for that readership. Study earlier issues to 4-6 months back. What is the editor buying? Write down six topics. Find the cutting edge, new facts, new studies, trends about to break, laws changing, a look-back 100 years, celebrities or leaders the reader must know, what fits the season 4-6 months ahead? (Check to see that your choice wasn’t on those pages in the past two years.)

3. Don’t know much about it? Learn. You need facts, quotes, and anecdotes. See what others are saying—and aren’t. Think like a reporter. Build a fact base, list people who are leaders in the field or are current bright lights.

4. Then write a one-page query letter that asks the editor, in essence, “Would you be interested in an article about?” Make the topic jump off the page, cite the experts you will quote or interview, tell what’s new or different or what excites you as a reader, include a short paragraph about your credits (if none, say nothing) and that you can have the piece in their hands 2-3 weeks after a go-ahead. (Check my blog “Nothing sells more articles than a great query letter” from 3/14/2011–write the date or “query letters” in the search box at the top of this blog.)

5. One precaution before querying: see if the editor ever printed humor. If so and it’s your style of writing, inject something funny in the query and in the final copy. If they don’t, don’t.

6. Write other query letters to other editors about other things while you await a reply.

7. If/when the editor writes back an eager response, study the last two issues, pulling apart at least one article in each. (The blog “How to study a printed magazine article” will help here. It appeared on 3/31/2011.) Get the idea and words together and write your piece like the authors wrote to be in print in the target magazine issue you studied. Stay in the same ballpark. If the editor gives you specific instructions or suggestions, do them. Edit and edit again: make it as light and tight as a drum. Then mail it off, as clean as a Dutch stoop. (If photos are an issue, get them off too. Ask the photo/art editor if there’s a submission protocol, and follow it.)

8. Then if that editor just can’t or won’t say yes, don’t worry about it. They can have 100 legitimate or ridiculous reasons. Find a similar magazine, remold your query to its readership, and query again. (But only one query at a time.) That’s why you don’t fully research and write the article until the editor gives you a go-ahead.)

But if you score a bulls eye, super. You go the gilded nod. Write and rejoice. You only write the winning manuscript once–that’s your 100%. Query letters are door-knocking. Congratulations! You’ve done it like the pro’s do. Neither you nor they have time to do the full prep without having at least the 50% chance you get with the query and go-ahead.

The other 50% (which is really 100%, 200% or 500%)?

There are two paths (and a combo) into this post-sale heaven: (1) you sell the very same article described above (after it has appeared in print) as a reprint (also called second rights), (2) you significantly redesign the just-sold article (again, after it has appeared in print), then you rewrite its query letter so you can submit your redesigned article after you get a “go-ahead.” You can rewrite the subject as many times as it can be configured into a distinctly unique article. And (3), you can sell reprints of the rewrites too.

The reprinting and rewriting can actually be more profitable than selling the original article, but it’s seldom as exciting!

Let me share the specifics about the “Profits from reprints, rewrites, and reprints of rewrites” in a blog by that title printed here a few days back, 2/7/15.

I know that all of what I’m telling you works because I put two sweet daughters through grad school, plus fed several suffering wives, by doing it. Now it’s your turn!

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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