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.