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Kim Wilson
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E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com

Five Questions Every Writer Should Ask

by Natalie Joanne Hale


When I began freelancing, I quickly learned there was a lingo and protocol writers should use when pitching an editor. From writing an eye-catching query letter to not letting the editor know just how desperately you want the assignment, there are some standards that every writer should know and prepare to work with. I've scaled these down to five questions every writer should ask.

1. What about kill fees?
Before you can ask about a kill fee, you must know what it is. A kill fee is a prearranged promise of payment between the writer and the editor. If after the writer has written the assigned story but the editor decides at the last minute not to use it, he will pay the writer the kill fee. It's usually 20-25 percent of what the writer would have been paid had the piece been published.

2. Which user rights do you buy?
Publications already have set policies on which rights they purchase, but they can be negotiated. Don't sell all rights and get first electronic rights defined. Why? If the publication has an online and disk version, you don't want to be paid for only one round of publication when there are three to be had.

3. What about my contributor's copies?
Some publishers offer copies of the issue with the writer's published article. That can be as a bonus or in place of payment. Unless they specify they do not offer contributors copies, don't be too shy to ask for one. The worse they can say is no.

4. How long should I wait for a response for my query letter and my paycheck?
That all depends on the publications policies. Response time can range anywhere from one week to three months or more. So plan your schedule accordingly. Mail the letter and then start right away on your next one. As for the paycheck, unless you've worked with this editor before, maintain a watchful eye. Be sure to find out when to expect the check and mark it on your calendar. If two weeks go by and you haven't seen it, make sure to contact the editor and make sure it was actually sent and if she has the right address.

5. How long should I wait for a response for my submission?
If your chosen publication (magazines, book publishers) doesn't already have this information listed in their submission guidelines or in a market report, don't be afraid to call or e-mail a representative or the editor and ask. Then sit back, be patient and wait. If two weeks pass beyond the expected reply date, write a kind reminder.

 Understanding "on spec" and simultaneous submissions

What does "on speculation" mean?
A publisher has not worked with you before but agrees to take a chance and read your finished story on speculation. Try to avoid this even if you are just starting out. Editors don't like to know they are working with a beginner. Don't lie, but act like a professional, like you know what you're doing.

Simultaneous or multiple submissions?
People really don't like the competition, and that's why editors discourage what's called a simultaneous or multiple submission. However, it's human nature that if we can't have something that's when we want it the most. If you send a query letter to more than one editor at a time, state so in the letter. That just might be enough of a subtle hint to get the editor to reply quickly and secure the story before someone else does. (Tip: Be sure and read the publication's guidelines because some markets do not accept simultaneous submissions.)

The world of freelance writing is competitive and sometimes brutal. But with a professional image, your chances of getting the assignment will weigh in your favor. Always remember to be kind, accurate and patient.

Natalie Joanne Hale is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. She's written dozens of articles for publications such as Renaissance Magazine, Children's Book Insider, and The Bulletin. Her children's book, The 16 Stones of Atholyn will soon be available. For more information, visit www.nataliehale.com










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