In last week’s post (12 Things You May Not Know About Traditional Freelance Writing: Part One), I told you I bought a second book on traditional (editorial) freelancing, which is writing articles for magazines and journals. Well, I’m going to share twelve more quick tips that I learned from that second book as well.
The book I’m highlighting in this post is Zachary Petit’s The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing: How to Write, Work, and Thrive on Your Own Terms. Petit is both a writer and editor (Writer’s Digest and Print) for magazines, and his unique perspective of having worked on both ends of the business makes for some very insightful advice and a fun read. Some of the most valuable things you will find in this book are his breakdowns of what should be included in different types of articles, such as profiles and Q&A’s. His work is very journalistic and investigative in nature, so he also includes a whole chapter on interviewing sources. Since I minored in communications, I was familiar with most of the techniques and tips, but there were still some things I found myself jotting down.
As with Kelly James-Enger’s book in Part One, this list barely scratches the surface of what Petit’s book teaches; it’s merely a few facts and tidbits that I was completely naive about before reading. You may notice that many of them have to do with contracts and taxes because, to me, the legal part of the business is the most confusing and the part about which I know the least. I have a feeling I’m not alone.
So, without further ado, here’s some things you may not know:
- Difference Between Consumer and Trade: Consumer magazines are the ones everyone is familiar with because they are all over newsstands, bookstores, and specialty shops and are meant for general audiences interested in the subject matter. Trade journals are intended for people in a specific industry for business-to-business use. Trade journals are harder to write content for because they are so technical and specialized, but there is a lot less competition when querying a trade journal and they usually pay better.
- Feature Categories: The main types of feature articles usually fall into four categories—journalistic feature, profiles, Q&A interviews, and how-to.
- Back of the Book: The pages that follow the features are the Back of the Book (BoB). They are usually around 300 words and are a great place to break in, especially if you have a sense of humor. Petit explains that the BoB is usually full of humor and quirky recurring bits like Writer’s Digest’s “Reject a Hit” (mock up rejection letters for famous books).
- Editor Hierarchy: While some smaller magazines may not have all of these titles on their masthead, the typical breakdown from highest to lowest is Publisher, Editor in Chief, Executive Editor, Managing Editor, Senior Editor, Associate Editor, Assistant Editor, Copy Editor, Research Assistant, Intern, and Contributing Editors. Some publications will have an Acquisitions Editor; if so, that is who you send queries to. But if not, and if no one is listed in the submission guidelines, send queries to the managing editor. Petite provides details about each editor’s duties in the book.
- Kick: The closing line of an article. Always make it count.
- Links NOT Attachments: When you are sending samples of your work to convince an editor that you can write the piece you are querying, always send them via a link. Even if that article isn’t published anywhere (it’s best if it is), put it on your website as a PDF you can link to. Why? According to Petit, the magazine’s tech department people will have a hissy fit if an editor opens an attachment from an unknown source, so they don’t do it. In fact, they have been taught to automatically delete any email that shows up in their inbox with an attachment. Your query won’t be read.
- Always AP: Perhaps this is because I don’t usually read magazines with an investigative angle, but the prevalence of AP style in magazines surprised me. I had figured most of them followed Chicago, but AP is the rule. So, get yourself familiar with it to score extra points with editors.
- The Danger of “Pay on Publication”: I defined this and its counterpart (Pay on Acceptance) in the last post, but what I found out from Petit was that a magazine can potentially just hold onto your piece for years or even indefinitely, never publishing but not officially “killing” it, and you never get paid. Always push for a Pay on Acceptance clause in the contract.
- The Reprint Clause: Even if you only grant the publication First Serial Rights (which is the best option), there may be a clause in your contract that allows them to reprint the piece in any of the company’s other magazines or in a collection/anthology. Some publications pay you a percentage of the original article price each time they reprint it. Others do not.
- The Indemnification Clause: While I love these clauses as a ghostwriter, you don’t want them in an article contract. They usually state that “all claims” filed will be aimed at you, not the magazine. Now, if you violated ethics in an investigative piece, you probably should bear the brunt, but “all claims” means that if a crazy person gets irrationally offended by the piece and decides to sue on trumped-up claims, you have to deal with that … out of your own wallet. Petit suggests telling the publication that this may infringe on your ability to get the whole story (if you are having to walk on eggshells) and move to get it struck from the contract.
- The “Same Subject” Clause: This clause states how long you have to wait until you write on the same subject for a competitor. If that subject is your niche, that may cause you problems, so make sure you talk to the editor and explain your situation, and you can probably get that clause adjusted. If not, it probably isn’t worth it.
- Business vs Hobbyist: As a freelance writer you must make more than you spend on your business (aka turn a profit) to officially be called a business. Before you reach that point, you are technically considered a hobbyist. So, be more cautious when listing deductions on your taxes until you are an official business.
Bonus Tip: When filing deductions on your taxes, be aware that if you deduct the whole cost of something like a computer or software (like Word), you’d better be using it entirely for work.
These tips aren’t even a fraction of the information crammed into this book. Traditional freelance article writing isn’t what I want to do full-time, but the advice in this book has still been invaluable to my business. If you’re interested, grab it off Amazon and get reading.