Friday, October 16, 2009
Theoretically, to write (and write well) you only need three things: a pen, some paper and a decent imagination. This morning, having composed a query and needing to print the letter as well as make some copies of previously published pieces to accompany the query, I stomped through the two inches of fresh snow over to the lodge where Andy works to make my copies and prints. Copies and prints made, which involved somehow restarting Andy’s computer while he was in the midst of payroll, I headed back to the Shack to slip the paper packet into a large, hand-addressed manila envelope along with a SASE. Then back into the snowy wonderland to trudge up to the mailbox. It may take just three things to write, but after this morning, I wouldn’t mind having: a large stapler, a printer, a copy machine, a Pitney-Bowes machine, a larger desk, a filing cabinet . . . .

If you want to write, general opinion seems to be that you should sit down, write and then find someone willing to pay for what you’ve just churned out. However, there are plenty of hoops to jump through months before composing your opening sentence. All the running around I did this morning could very likely come to nothing if the publication rejects my query and even if they do accept my idea, it will lead to only a teeny article between 200-300 words, not to mention a teeny weeny paycheck.

There are three main ways to write: on assignment, by querying, or writing “on spec.” Writers dream of writing on assignment, when an editor seeks you out to write on a particular subject for their publication. Not only does writing on assignment mean a paycheck, it also means you’ve established yourself as a credible and reliable writer.

Most people from outside the writing world seem to assume that writers write mostly “on spec”, that is, composing completed articles and then pitching them to publications. There are a few publications that prefer to see your completed article (rather than just hearing about your great idea for an article) and I’ve been published “on spec” before. The massive downside of writing “on spec” is that if the publication you’ve tailored your article to reject your article, you’re left with a specialized article that’s not making you any money and which will need heavy edits before being pitched to other publications.

But most writing takes place through the query system. I abhor it. To query, you send a publication a letter about your idea for an article for their publication, explaining how you plan to research and write the article and also selling yourself as the best candidate for the job. Generally, you also attach a few clips of your writing. It seems simple enough, but you need to research your market extensively to make sure your idea isn’t repetitive or just plain boring to the audience you’re trying to market and at times, you need to be thinking at least a year in advance to stay on track with the publication’s publishing schedule.

Theoretically, you only need three things to write, but a home office, a heavy dose of patience and maybe, a bit of luck, never hurt any aspiring writer.

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