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How to sell 100% or more of your articles to the newspapers…

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This is segment #5 of a 16-part series called “How to Sell 75% of Your Freelance Writing.”

That 100% sales number is true, the ratio is right, but in this field it’s a bit of a numbers game because you will submit the same article simultaneously to lots of newspapers (and magazines).

If you send out 12 copies and sell one, you have sold the submission 100% of the time. If you sell three or four (or more, which isn’t uncommon if it’s a good topic well written), bingo, you sell 300% or 400%.

(How do I know? Because I did it for 30+ years. Once I sold the same newspaper piece 23 times, and three or four times I sold one nine times in 13 simultaneous submissions. I’m not boasting. There may have been 20-30 of us doing essentially the same thing. It’s a professional marketing process.)

The process is simple too. You get an idea, research it, prepare a newspaper market list, write the manuscript, reproduce as many copies of that manuscript as you have primary markets, and send a manuscript to each editor with a cover note (usually suggesting the availability of photos) with a self-addressed, stamped return envelope in case it’s rejected. Then wait to see it in print. They usually send a page tear-out or two of the printed piece, with the check.

Alas, the risk is higher than for queried magazines. Here you must do all the research and writing without any indication of a sale. You might have a dozen copies of the same masterpiece rejected—that happens to even the most gifted professionals. So your selling percentage would be zero while your time expenditure, plus preparation costs and postage, could be considerable.

Even worse, when you do sell, most newspaper markets pay poorly, or at least well below their queried magazine counterparts. So if you earn a half or a third as much per sale this way, you need a lot more sales to stay even. And they are all written at 100% risk.

Yet your numbers can be exciting. You write “the” article about visiting the regal palaces in Haiti, Mexico, and Brazil and zip it off to 18 newspaper travel editors. Six find it irresistible —four buy the piece (half with color pix, the rest, black and white photos), two just want the prose. Since you sold exactly the same article six times, you sold at a 600% ratio. And you earned from $1,000-1,800 total. Not bad for one item. Except that you could have earned roughly the same with two similar sales, with photos, to middle-level travel magazines—or to just one in a higher pay range. And since you would have queried the magazines and received a go-ahead first, almost removing the risk altogether.

What makes simultaneous submissions worth doing is the possibility that many markets will buy the very same material. Since you can send that identical copy to 4 or 10 or 25 publications at once, the potential of multiple sales overrules the element of risk.

Where can you simultaneously submit nonfiction copy? Daily newspapers, their weekly supplements, and to some religious, regional, and in-flight magazines.

Newspapers don’t buy much from freelancers anymore. Travel is the most sought, but some also buy op ed pieces, food, reviews, and ecology and computer specials.

Travel is the easiest type of writing to sell. Almost all newspapers regularly feature travel, and for you, if you keep receipts and can justify your expenses for trips, the costs can be deducted from your taxes.

With the exception of the “national newspapers” like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and USA Today, you can simultaneously send the same manuscript, unqueried, to newspaper travel sections in cities where papers don’t overlap in circulation or distribution. (For most, primary circulation doesn’t extend beyond 100 miles.)

Where they do overlap, using Chicago as an example, you might send it to the Tribune first; if rejected, to the Sun-Times next, and, if still rejected, simultaneously to the newspapers in Milwaukee, Arlington Heights, and South Bend, Indiana, which are too close to Chicago to buy simultaneously what appears in the dominant metropolitan daily but, separately, don’t overlap. Create a national list of separate circulation spheres and submit. If there are overlappers, do them one at a time until one says yes or you run out of newspapers in that area!

The pay for newspaper travel is fairly low: $85-150 per article bought, plus $10-$25 per black and white photo used. Color is seldom purchased from freelancers, but it can earn $25-100 per shot used. The good news: if one newspaper is interested in the manuscript, often several more are too—and often about half of those will also buy from one to four photos.

At the outset don’t compete against the travel editors by sending full-length articles several thousand words long. The editor usually writes the main piece—or buys it from another travel editor. Given a choice between his or her own article, another editor’s, or yours, guess who loses? Shoot for one of the many “second” articles regularly bought from freelancers. Keep yours in the 1,000-1,600-word range, preferably about 1,250, at least until your name is well known and your writing respected.

I go into this in great detail in my Travel Writer’s Guide. It also includes “365 Ideas for Travel Articles.”

Newspaper Weekly Supplements

Submitting to newspaper weekly supplements follows the same rule, except the items may be longer. Again, send only to those where circulation or distribution don’t overlap. If you wish to sell to Parade, Family Weekly, or a similar national supplement, try them one at a time first. If there are no takers, you can submit the article simultaneously to the regional newspapers.

A few of the newspaper weekly magazine editors, like those of many of the religious, regional, and in-flight magazines, will want to be queried, though others will gladly accept direct submissions. Since you are writing the manuscript first, counting on the sheer number distributed to produce enough sales to offset the time spent on research and writing, what do you do?

If the piece is pure humor, forget the query and send it to all possible markets. But if it has a core topic (even though it’s humorous) and can be queried if sent singly, (1) send copies to all possible simultaneous markets, and (2) send a query, individually written, to each editor of those markets that want query letters, then rework the manuscript to meet their unique needs.

You can reduce the rewriting if you make sure that the query describes precisely what you’ve written, in the same style and tone. Don’t mention that the actual copy has already been penned. If asked, indicate that it will be offered to other newspaper weekly supplements outside the editor’s circulation area (or to religious publications of other faiths or sects, regionals in other parts of the country, or in-flights covering other parts of the nation, if your primary market is in one of those fields).

Should a queried editor want to see the piece, send a copy of the simultaneous submission. If he wants it written in a special way or to a different length, or suggests some other revision, alter the basic copy to meet the editor’s demands and send it. That way you get the best of both worlds, querying and simultaneous submission.

Most newspaper supplements want local items, or at least something their readers can immediately relate to. Local items are difficult if the piece is to be sold simultaneously nationwide. So focus on topics of immediate interest everywhere. Humor or humorous items work well, particularly about something everybody has experienced or will, like a blind date, cooking your first Thanksgiving turkey, or attending your first high school reunion—to pick three evergreens. Holiday topics, investigative reporting in the consumer affairs area, medical discoveries, nostalgia about famous people, or major events are other items you can sell from coast to coast.

What else do newspapers buy—and how must you write to fit instantly on their pages? The best way to find out what they might buy is to read what they just bought, then write that way.

How can you find the newspapers or simultaneous submission magazines? Google for the newspaper editors and check the current Writer’s Market for regional, religious, and in-flight entries. As a rule of thumb, the larger and more independent the newspaper, the more likely it is to buy (and pay) for freelance material.

Later in this series I will talk about submitting photography to increase your salability and income from newspapers and magazines.

In the next section, #6, out in a few days, let me explain a far less risky and better paying system for selling more than 75% of the time to magazines. Stayed tuned!

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

P.S. I talk in greater detail about writing and publishing at my free monthly newsletter. Join in!

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How can you sell your nonfiction book or novel to publishers more than 75% of the time?

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This is section 4 of 16 that I will continue sharing at this blog (about two a week) from my seminar “How to Sell 75% of Your Freelance Writing.”

While I mostly focus on articles in this series, you can easily sell at least three quarters of the book manuscripts that you write. But you must adhere to my formula of only writing when you have far better than a 75% chance of selling.

How is that done with books?

Let’s start with nonfiction. If you count by titles, 92% of the books published last year, and in recent years, were nonfiction. (The sheer paper weight of books printed might find nonfiction-fiction closer to 50-50.)

Thus it’s far easier to sell nonfiction than fiction. And it’s far less risky for you.

Let’s say you want to sell to a standard publisher. You will create a book proposal before you actually write any of the book itself. It will include a two-page query letter that sells the idea and you as the author, a table of contents, perhaps a synopsis (if you can’t fit that into the query), and surely a reference (written source) and resourse (oral source) sheet (or two) explaining where the book’s key contents come from, with data about each of the sources and roughly what will come from them. You might also have a sales or selling summary telling who will buy your book, where they are, how they can be sold, and what of that selling you will help with.

You send this query/proposal to potential publishers one at a time. (You usually don’t need an agent for nonfiction.) Try the best houses first. Only when an editor says yes, we’re interested, send me three sample chapters (sometimes the whole book) do you do the full research, interviewing, and content writing.

Unless you write great queries and awful books, if the editors agrees to publish your book, you should easily top sell it more than 75% of the time.

You can actually publish it 100% of the time if you self-publish. If it’s a niche book, particularly, go straight to my Niche Publishing book and not only see it in print soon but make a low-risk goldmine from it! If it’s not niched, see Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual.

There’s another, easier way to publish your book 100% of the time–nonfiction or fiction. Go straight to the ancillary publishers (see How to Get Your Book Published Free in Minutes and Marketed Worldwide in Days.) Since there are seven such houses and you can use all seven, your book can really be in print 700% of the time. (Add another 100% when you self-publish it simultaneously!)

But selling fiction through standard publishers is a very steep climb, and maybe a 7% success ratio rather than 75% is more likely, if not wildly optimistic. The problem is that you must write the whole book first, then shop it around publisher by publisher. Alas, they aren’t eager to see you coming! (It makes more sense to get the book out through an ancillary house, then launch your big-house campaign around a published, selling novel they might want to print and sell.)

Thus you have three options to publish your book more than 75% of the time: only writing and submitting it after a standard nonfiction editor has approved your query/proposal, self-publish it, or use the new ancillary publishing route.

Incidentally, with exceptions, the self-publishing route (especially for niched books) may be the most profitable. The standard route (for nonfiction) will require you to do the least amount of marketing. And the ancillary route is by far the fastest, maybe the most profitable, and surely the least expensive path

Get writing!

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

P.S. The next section will be about selling 75% of what you send to newspapers! (I write about publishing mostly in my free monthly newsletter, if you are interested.)

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Where can freelancers reliably sell 75% of what they write–and what sells best?

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This is the third section of 16 I will be writing here on my blog from my seminar “How to Sell 75% of Your Freelance Writing.”

Here I make a loose comparison of 10 writing categories to determine risk, which I define as the length of time it takes you to prepare an item that sells. It’s not the amount earned, exactly, but there’s a close correlation.

I see as the lowest risk being (1) queried nonfiction articles and books and (2) simultaneous submission articles, mostly to newspapers (travel sells best), newspaper weekly supplements, and religious, regional, and in-flight publications.

What makes the queried low-risk group the best bet is that you only do enough research and writing to create winning go-ahead queries before you actually research and write the copy. (You study the magazines closely to see what the editor has just bought before you do the final prep work.) You should sell those almost every time.

In other words, you have far better than a 75% chance of a sale by only writing when you get that positive reply, then compose copy that editor wants.

It’s more a numbers game with (2) the simultaneous submission pieces, particularly if they aren’t queried. For example, if you write a travel piece and send it to 15 regional newspapers all 100 miles from each other, there’s a good chance that a couple of the editors will use it. (See more about this in the Travel Writer’s Guide.) One use equals 100% sale, two, 200%, and so on. Read: high sales ratio, but not nearly as much money.

Five other categories, at the outset, are far riskier: nonfiction unqueried items, greeting cards, scripts, fiction, and poetry.

Nonfiction unqueried pieces, like straight humor, are a roll of the dice. They go in one at a time; selling better than one in five tries is kind of a joke. Short items (actual jokes, quotes, commentary) are a bit better because you can send many to the same editor in the same envelope.

Greeting cards are done almost by formula: about 12 ideas on 3 x 5 cards are sent exclusively to one editor at a time, with the sentiment on one side, the code and return info on the back. Plus an SASE with each batch. If they hold/buy two cards a submission, quit your day job! It’s slow, lots of mailing, and the pay isn’t much.

Scripts are where the money is, but you need an agent, and the distance between a treatment and pay dirt takes huge patience, lots of rewriting, and many submissions.

Fiction the usual way, through the big houses, is a bit like fishing with rubber worms. You write the whole book and send it, or three chapters with a synopsis, to a publisher or an agent. What’s the current buy ratio, way under 1:100? Or is it 1:1000? More like .75% than 75%. Think seriously of ancillary publishing here, perhaps doing that through CreateSpace, Lule, or Pubit.

Short stories are even harder to sell profitably because the magazines using them have mostly disappeared.

Poetry is almost guaranteed to qualify you for food stamps. Mark Twain was right when he said that poets must learn to chop wood–when one lived (meanly) by selling chopped wood.

Which is not to say that you can’t endure, sell a couple of scripts, and push that up above the 75% selling ratio because of your fame and ability. There are even un-starving poets.

But if you want to sell more than 75% of your freelance writing reliably and regularly, master the art of first writing fethching query letters, then copy as good as promised.

Then in your idle time write the higher-risk gems and persevere until you are in high-paying demand where you most want to be.

A final note: you can make a lot more money from a solid core article than you get just from the basic manuscript. You can sell photos or artwork to accompany it (like graphs, charts, and cartoons), and once it is sold you can find a clearly different slant and rewrite about the topic again.

Remember you can also sell every queried item again once it is in print, often to many buyers at once, as a second or reprint sale. There is no exclusivity. You just have to find agreeable reprint editors! (I used to average three reprints for every original article so I know it can be done.)

Keep tuned: about 12 more segments following here at the blog–about two a week. And more about the publishing at my newsletter, free, plus three useful how-to articles for signing up.

Next: how to 75% of your nonfiction books.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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How much money can you earn from articles and related photos?

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That would probably be the first question asked at my “How to Sell 75% of Your Freelance Writing” seminar–if I didn’t begin with the answer!

For magazines, figure you will earn about $350 an article for those that pay “regular” rates. Plus photos or artwork, if they buy that from you.

The highest paying category? Travel, up to a median rate of about $425.

That doesn’t mean that some magazines don’t pay more. Many of the leading magazines pay one to several thousand dollars an article. Alas, some don’t pay at all. (Academic, religious, and juvenile fall too often in that latter category.)

Newspapers are buying less by the day. Freelancers have their best selling shot in travel, but some newspapers also buy op ed (opposite the editorial page), food, seniors, living, computer, and ecology items. Travel pieces pay $85-$175 usually, but the biggest city papers may pay several hundred dollars, up to about $750.

The national newspapers buy exclusively (if they buy)–New York Times, Wall Street Journal, U.S.A. Today–as do those in a few of the key cities. But most newspaper travel can be submitted and sold simultaneously as long as the targets are 100+ miles apart. Thus, San Jose and San Francisco overlap but Denver and Boston don’t. If they don’t overlap but buy simultaneous submissions, you can sell the same item to them all.

Photos can bring an additional bounty. For magazines, color might earn $100-200 each; black-and-white, about half as much. Covers, $350-600+. Check to see how the editor wants the pix submitted, and, if they want digital photos, the specific submission protocol they use.

The best guide to find out what publications are buying and most of the needed details is the current Writer’s Market. Most libraries and bookstores have it.

My Travel Writer’s Guide explains almost all of this process, but not the topic-spoking (that follows).

The way to make a decent living is by “topic-spoking.” Focus on a core topic and spend prime time creating a knowledge base to draw from. Read the basic books and create a fact pool, with a list of experts to quote. Also list potential articles in both magazines and newspapers, and get your query letters in motion, one about each possible article at a time. Then you patch in the newspaper pieces as you go along.

I used to topic-spoke two (sometimes three) main subjects a year, and by the time I moved on the earnings were in the $3,000-$12,000 area for each. Best yet, the time needed to research the last articles about that subject was about a fifth as much since I’d gathered most of the related material along the way.

Since I’ll be explaining “How to Sell 75% of Your Freelance Writing” here at the blog for the next couple of months, you’ll better understand “topic-spoking” as we go along.

I hope this is useful.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

P.S. I have a free, monthly newsletter. Glad to have you aboard. I also have a subject index to my past blogs and newsletters, if that helps.

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How to Sell 75% of Your Freelance Writing

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To sell 75% (or much more) of your freelance writing submissions to magazines and newspapers you need a consistent process that will get your work bought, a professional rate paid, and almost all of your rejections eliminated before you even write them!

In the last 25 years I’ve written a book by this title (twice a Writer’s Digest top book club choice) and given a four-hour seminar about the topic about 400 times, usually through college extended ed programs. (In fact, I gave one two nights back, at Foothill College, near Stanford in California.)

Core to that program is a formula that guides the writer on their selling quest to consistently surpass that 75% selling plateau. This is it:

“You sell more than 75% of your freelance writing by writing only when you have better than a 50% chance of a sale. (Once sold, you can increase your income by selling reprints and rewrites of the same material.)

“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.”

Let’s talk more about this in coming blogs in the next month since I will be producing an updated three-hour CD series (with the full workbook, downloadable on a fourth disk). I’ll tell you when this program becomes available, and share some of its key contents along the way.

Does this formula work? I’ve used it to put 1,700+ freelance articles in print, then to create some 15 spinoff books (of my 39). So it has for me, and for many of the thousands of attendees who kindly sent me a copies of their sold articles (and books).

I hope it works for you!

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

P.S. I talk about writing and publishing in my free monthly newsletter. Join in, if interested.

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