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Write From Home
Kim Wilson
P.O. Box 4145
Hamilton, NJ 08610

E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com

In the Meantime...Paying the Bills
by Carolyn Burch


All writers have their dream jobs, the book that sells a million copies, the article read the world over that leads to that interview with the network producer, etc.

But while waiting for all those big breaks to happen, we all have eat, right?

And I for one, don't relish the idea of having no paycheck at all, so I found a way to make a living writing, in the meantime.

Writing is a multi-faceted experience, and while most writers think that their skill lies only in one genre, or only one area, they are usually wrong. The same aptitude it takes to capture interest in a novel or short story also gives most writers the aptitude to write catchy phrases that are of use to businesses and magazines in many forms.

And these, my dear, pay the bills.

Seven Projects Anyone Who Writes Can Sell
If you develop the skills needed for these particular items, you can make a living while spending the majority of your time still on the real work of your life. You are still making a living writing, and as a side perk, many of these piece work items give you credibility and publishing credits when you go to a publisher later. Remember, all publishing houses like to see some previous writing experience. It just ensures to them that you will not be difficult to deal with when they tell you that your grammar or spelling is off somewhere.

An editor at a publishing house, when looking at your previous work, is looking for three primary things: he's looking at your work to see how much work he, as an editor will have to do to your manuscript to make it salable; he's looking at the cost of it and the prospect of it selling profitably for his house; and he's looking for the unforeseen possibility (which is always present) that you will turn into a "devil-writer" who argues about every decision, every comma moved, and calls constantly as if you are in fact the only author the publishing house represents.

So, to write and sell successfully, both now and later, it is essential to create a clips file. And in the process, pay the bills. Now we'll talk about some ways to accomplish that.

Since a clip file, which is a little portfolio or book of clipped articles out of magazines and newspapers where a writer's work has appeared, is of primary interest to an editor sizing up a potential contributing editor or staffer, you must build it with those kinds of pieces of work that will indicate to that person that you are a good risk.

The service piece is the most sought-after piece of writing in a magazine. It tells how to accomplish something, or in the case of an industry or trade publication, tell readers something essential to their field. And since these are proven to be best-read items that most readers read in every magazine, magazines pay more and seek more of this sort of writing than any other kind. It is also, generally, less fun to write for the writer, and so more freelancers get these pieces assigned to them since staffers get very tired of writing service items day after day and freelancers can often invoke a fresh view or idea on the topic.

There are several other ways to get good clips you can use that do not involve the service piece, or rather, involve a different kind of service item: the direct-to-consumer service piece.

The Seven Prime Candidates
Okay, here they are, my top picks for easiest to sell, fastest turnaround, lowest time investment, and highest payoff for that time.

1. The magazine service piece you know something about.
Everyone is an expert in something, what's your topic? It can be anything from old episodes of I love Lucy to air conditioning. Whatever yours is, contact the local chapter of people interested in that topic. Ask if they have a newsletter, ask them to loan you trade magazines and then follow up on those magazines by submitting news about new trends in that field.

2. The magazine service piece you know nothing about.
So you can learn, can't you? A great service piece on this topic is something you basically paraphrase. The first one of these I was assigned horrified me: it was scheduled to be a 3500 word piece on Arabian Horse National champion grooming techniques. I was mortified! what did I know about grooming horses, especially on the National level?

But then I had an idea. I found out who the top three farms in the nation were that were showing at that level, contacted them and told them about my article and that I wanted them to be a part of it. I titled my piece "Grooming Tips from the Pro's" and sent out a questionnaire to each of the three farms. I took their answers and segmented them into the different aspects of grooming horses (bathing, brushing, and actual show preparation) and quoted each verbatim, which in fact added punch to my article anyway. The trick in that sort of piece is knowing what questions to ask.

And there's always someone willing to tell you if you don't know. Just Ask.

3. Typing work for other writers.
You'd be surprised how many other people are out there who need help with their own manuscripts and articles. Put an ad in the paper, on the local writer's club site, and also on bulletin boards at the library. You might be surprised at how many people call.

4. Local Companies
Local businesses are always looking for writers to write up press releases, training manuals, in-house newsletters and other materials. Get online and send out a nice intro message to any Web sites you can find in those venues.

5. Local Lawyers
Always trying get an edge on a case, capture a juror's interest in his client's case, gain the approval or at least interest of the press, always looking for new business, a lawyer is a great customer with a steady stream of short piecework who can butter your bread. Try sending out just a simple letter to 20 lawyers in the local yellow pages. Introduce yourself as a freelance writer and see what happens.

6. Local Theatre Companies
Constantly revising scripts, and short in supply of the time to do them themselves, small and large theatre companies alike often have some desperately needed copying, printing, and writing needs. It may be as simple as changing a scene's language and cues, or as widely spread as writing a temperamental walk-off out of a story. It may even include other things like T-shirts promoting the play, which you can easily outsource to your nearest office supply store that will order them for you. Just get the price, print it on your letterhead with all needed info (when it will arrive, shipping charges, etc.) add your own markup and you're in business.

7. Webmasters
I know several IT and Webmasters for large companies who tell me that, along with setting VCR's for their CEO, are regularly asked to repair microwaves, small clocks, change batteries, handle phone systems, and write the content for the sites they care for. None of which, of course, are any part of their career plans. Webmaster, translated roughly means "can write code" not "can write anything people would purposely want to read." But that said, nonetheless they are frequently asked and put into that position, and love to have a name of a freelancer hanging around just in case.

Well, that's my list for in the meantime. It pays my bills, keeps me motivated and active in writing. It can work for you, too!


Carolyn Burch is a full-time freelance professional writer, columnist, and author, and mother of four from Phoenix, AZ. She has her masters arm-band in distractionary tactics for children, and a minor in birth control.

With a background in addition to writing in Marketing, Sales, Time Management, and Human Resources, she has written for five National and three International print magazines and journals, several newspapers, and more than a hundred online E-zines and sites, and is the lead instructor for 2001-2002 at the Cornerstone Creative Writing Workshops. Her writing archives can be viewed at http://www.cornerstoneconsortium.com.


 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

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