Flip through the latest edition of Writer's Market, and read what
"Break in by writing short pieces..."
"Break in with our department articles..."
"Break in with short news articles about our industry..."
These days, more editors expect beginning writers to submit short articles—newsbreaks, book reviews, short humor, anything under 500 or 600 words.
Editors want to see which writers have the talent and professionalism to
succeed. They're wary about granting feature assignments to writers they
haven't worked with before.
How can you write, submit, and get paid for your shorts?
Ideas for shorts come from the same places as ideas for feature articles. Dig
into your personal experiences and memories. What have you observed in your
town? What have you read in magazines, newspapers, and books? Many magazines
may talk on and on about some new medical treatment or beauty regimen. Go
against the hype.
Many shorts start as pieces from feature articles or even books. Recently, USA
Today ran an article about how a lack of sidewalks in cities leads to obesity.
You can take the information from this particular article, do some original
research, and write a short about convincing your city's civil engineers to
make your hometown more walker-friendly.
Find a willing editor, and receive a check!
How do you query for short articles? The same way you query for feature
articles. Many other articles and books tell you how to query editors. I
suggest that you emphasize the turnover time when it comes to short articles.
Don't query an editor with an idea unless you can finish it within a week.
After a month or so, many editors forget pitches for major articles. Imagine
them forgetting about your book review or filler. Follow the writers'
guidelines. E-mail your query with contact information (your name, address,
phone number, and e-mail address). Snail mail your query with a self-addressed
stamped envelope and any available clips. Wait for a reply. Editors can
respond anytime from ten minutes to three months or longer.
When you receive a go-ahead from an editor, write your short article like your
feature articles. Create a compelling lead, add the meat in the middle, and
tie the thematic elements tightly at the end. Many experts tell writers to
write tight. With short articles, you must write extremely tight. Stay away
from digressions and pretty prose that don't contribute to the slant of the
Most feature articles need five to seven sources-interviews from experts,
books read, statistics researched. Over a three-week turnover (from go-ahead
to submission), you probably spend 50% to 75% of your time researching. On the
other hand, most shorts require fewer sources. You can research and write the
article within a week. Even though shorts require less research, they demand
the same accuracy as feature articles. When submitting the final manuscript,
you'll need to provide your editor with a list of contacts for fact checking.
Whether you write a 100-word newsbreak or a 5,000-word expose in Harper's,
accuracy is part of professionalism.
Next you revise your article, taking out unnecessary information and words.
Submit the revised article to the editor, on or before the deadline.
So your editor accepts your short article. What about payment? Just by word
count alone, the average feature article pays more. It's obvious-at ten cents
per word, you receive a bigger check for a 1500-word article than a 500-word
article. Editors may pay more for a feature article, but short articles are
easier to sell. They're perfect for the beginning writer.
They also work for the professional writer. How?
It's hard making a living as a freelance writer. Most writers have several
projects going on at the same time. Say that you're working on a couple of
major articles. With research, writing, revising, and the waiting that the
editor puts you through, it often takes weeks or months to get paid for your
work. With short articles, you can write quickly, in between your major
projects. You can use some of your "big-article" research to create a
newsbreak or a book review. Many national publications pay up to a dollar per
word for short articles. So a 200-word article can pay some of your bills.
So I explained why writing short articles makes sense. Below are ten paying
markets that purchase short articles. Request writers' guidelines from the
editor before submitting queries.
ASPCA Animal Watch
Contact: Marion Lane
Needs: Animal Watchers profiles, Light Watch humor, and Animals Abroad essays
Pays: $75-$225 on acceptance
Air and Space/Smithsonian Magazine
Contact: Pat Trenner
Needs: Sounding newsbreaks
Pays: $150-$300 on acceptance
Contact: R.G. Robertson
Needs: True Reviews book reviews
Pays: $20 minimum on acceptance
Contact: Todd Meier
Needs: Book, video, and software reviews
Pays: $50-$200 on acceptance
Guideposts For Kids on The Web
Contact: Rosanne Tolin
Needs: Cool Kids profiles and Animals, Animals! Articles
Pays: $50-$500 on acceptance
Contact: Peter Flax
Needs: Backcountry essays, Weekend Wilderness articles, and Signpost
Pays: $200-$1000 on acceptance
Contact: Kimberly S. Herbert
Needs: Short horse health news
Pays: $50-$400 on acceptance
Contact: Ms. Sam Darley
Needs: Short food, home, and travel articles
Pays: $50-$200 within 30 days of acceptance
Contact: David DeNunzio
Needs: Stroke Saver tips
Pays: $300-$850 on publication
Needs: City Lights articles
Pays: $50 minimum on publication