The beginner’s guide p.4



The beginner’s guide p.4


The Sales

Okay, you sent out your killer query, and you got a phone call from an editor with the big news: you got the assignment! Congratulations, you! Go on and do a little dance of joy, then crash back to reality with your new mantra: GET IT IN WRITING. Make sure the editor tells you that a written contract is forthcoming in the near future.

If youve researched your market, you probably already have an idea of the pay rate, but be sure to cover this ground in that initial phone call if the editor fails to mention it. Important things to remember:

On Publication or. On Acceptance

You not only need to know how much you’ll be paid, but also, when you’ll be paid. Many markets want to pay you on publication. This can be a problem, because many magazines and journals have long lead times. (Translation: a long time between when they assign you the article and when it actually ends up in print.) If you write an article in January, and it doesn’t get published until November, you probably won’t see a check until December. Do you want to wait a year to get paid? Can you wait that long? This is a point you absolutely can negotiate. Ask for payment on acceptance. If this is refused, it gives you a little leverage to work with on the other issues, which are

Kill Fees

If you get the assignment, and, for whatever reason, an editor decides not to print your article, you can negotiate for a kill fee. This is a percentage of the sale price. If you are offered $200 to write an article, you may get a $50 kill fee. It’s a well known fact that big publications kill articles all the time. Some editors admit to assigning 10-20% more than they could ever fit in the magazine. They do this so they can pick and choose from the final products, or so they can see how things fit once the layout is complete. Some articles will be pushed back to other issues, and some will just be trashed.


We like them. Those are the little blurbs that often follow an article, giving short biographical information about the writer, and sometimes an e-mail address or phone number. Ask for one if you can.

Sidebars and Photos

Those are the little factoids or columns that rest next to the main article. For example, in an article about exercise, youll often see a little chart on the side that tells how many calories are burned by doing specific exercises (riding a bike, climbing a hill, etc.). If you can suggest sidebars, you can often get extra pay. Same goes for photos. If youve got a decent camera and a good eye, offer photos for a few extra bucks.

To Spec or Not To Spec

Especially as a novice writer, youll sometimes get asked to write an article on speculation. This means that youll have to write the whole article and submit it without a contract, or any promise of payment. Its a bone of contention among professional writers, because almost no other field works this way. Its never do the job, and then Ill decide if I feel like paying you. Only in this crazy business. Harrumph.

That said, I advise you to take spec assignments in the beginning. Once youre established, you shouldnt need to do this, but in order to build up your resume and your clips, you need to get published. So go ahead and submit on spec, and go ahead and do a few free/nearly free pieces for the experience.

Before submitting anything, though, make sure you know in advance what the terms will be if the editor does use your piece. How much will you be paid? What rights will they buy?

Even many of the big markets have adopted the practice of requesting pieces on spec. They do this because they can get away with it. Because there are thousands of wannabe writers out there who will beg, borrow, and steal for the chance to be published. So, if you want to compete, sometimes you’ll have to suck it up and accept this. Once the publication accepts one of your spec pieces, you’ll be a much more likely candidate for an outright assignment next time.

Rights to Write

There are several kinds of rights a publication may buy:

First North American Serial Rights The newspaper or magazine has the right to publish this piece for the first time in any periodical. All other rights belong to the writer.

One-Time Rights The publication buys the nonexclusive right to publish the piece once. The writer can sell the same article to other publications simultaneously.

Second Serial Rights (or Reprint Rights)Also nonexclusive. Gives the publication the right to reprint an article that has appeared elsewhere.

Electronic Rights Covers CD-ROMs, e-zines, website content, games, etc. Get in writing which electronic rights are specified– First Electronic Rights, archiving rights, etc. Most publications ask for the right to archive “indefinitely.” You can try to negotiate for a fixed term (i.e., archiving rights for six months).

All Rights Pretty self-explanatory. You can never sell this piece to anyone else again. Try to avoid this one. Most publications ask for First Serial Rights.

Work-For-Hire Rights— The publication has come up with the idea and assigned it to you, and they will own it, lock, stock, and barrel. They own the copyright and don’t even have to give you credit. It may be sliced, diced, repackaged, resold, etc., and you won’t have any claim to it beyond what you were originally paid.

TV/Motion Picture Rights Also self-explanatory. Almost always exclusive.

Recycling Your Big Ideas

This is the bread and butter of freelance writing. Its also called re-slanting. Once you’ve got the Big Idea, don’t waste it by only using it once. Use the information you’ve gathered and come up with off-shoot ideas. Slant it to appeal to different markets.

You’re afraid because of the issue of rights that we just discussed, right? (No pun intended.) Well, you have nothing to fear, provided the new article is sufficiently different in content and intended audience. If you’ve managed to sell your article to a major national magazine, it is considered poor form to try to sell a re-slanted version to another national magazine.

However, if you’re dealing with regional, specialized, or small publications, there should be very little overlap of intended audience. Therefore, an editor from Alabama Aristocrats would probably never know if you sold a re-slanted version of your piece to Guitarists Today. Even if they did know, they almost certainly would not care.

It is standard and accepted practice, for the simple reason that it is darn difficult to make a living as a writer. If you have the choice between making $100 for selling your piece to one small publication, or making $1000 by selling altered versions to eight different small publications, which would you choose?

Re-slanting an article is easy, since you’ve already done the bulk of the research. Scrounge up a few new quotes, and use the information you left out of the first article. Focus it on the new desired market.

For example, I could sell an article about the health benefits of meditation to a fitness magazine. A few alterations, and that same article becomes Religions Encouraging Meditation for my local newspaper’s Society pages. Then it becomes Meditation Makes You Smarter for the college market. Then, Meditate Your Stress Away for a working womans magazine. And I didn’t even mention all those new age/holistic publications. What a field day!

With just a few more questions posed to your trusted experts, you’ve got a whole new article. And, look! You’re becoming an expert yourself. This is how you begin to find your niche a few specific subjects that you feel comfortable writing about. Ah, soon those journalists will be coming to YOU with their questions.


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