A Smart Way to Handle Multiple Submissions

After checking out magazines on the Barnes & Noble newsstand yesterday, I moved over to the reference section where books about writing abound. It’s always fun to find out what other writers are writing about writing.

The reference section never disappoints. Last night, I happened upon Telling True Stores, a paperback nonfiction writers’ guide, edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call. The book includes dozens of short articles by writers, including original contributions from Nora Ephron, David Halberstam, Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Tracy Kidder and others.

Of course, I bought the book. While paging through it today, I found a section on “Building a Career in Magazines and Books,” that included a very helpful piece by Jim Collins called “Making It as a Freelancer.”

The writer includes lots of good practical advice. I especially liked his take on multiple submissions, an area where newcomers are likely to run into trouble, he says, because editors tend to believe writers are thinking only about their magazine.

If you have an idea that will fit more than one (magazine), tailor each query and send proposals sequentially. Each magazine should receive a unique pitch. Send the query to your top-choice publication, noting, ‘I think there might be other magazines interested in this; it’s a timely topic. Could you get back to me within a month?’ If you don’t hear back, move on to the next magazine.”

I must confess I’ve never thought of including wording exactly like that in queries for articles suitable for multiple submissions. I’ll heed his advice, though, and in the future adopt similar wording in my queries. Seems like the smart thing to do.

© 2008 by Laverne Daley

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What to Do When Your Article is Rejected

So the editor said “no.”

It’s okay to feel a tad depressed when an article is rejected. It’s not okay to think the rejection is a reflection on you or your writing ability. The timing may have been wrong, the editor may have something similar in the works, or she just might not like the idea you proposed.

It’s not okay to write a spiteful response to the offending editor, either. Keep the door open for future sales.

Rejection is a part of life for every writer. It happens to all of us, professionals and new writers alike. The difference, oftentimes, is that professionals snap back and do something positive. We reconsider the original idea to determine if we chose the right approach. We rework the query to tailor it to a different publication. Or we sit right down at the computer and start writing a different query for another idea that’s been simmering in our brains.

Kelly James-Enger offered some excellent advice about overcoming rejection in her article, “Freelancing 101,” in The Writer’s Handbook. Treat rejections as opportunities, she says. Even get right back to the editor who rejected your work.

If you have another idea that’s right for that market, start your new query or cover letter with language like ‘Thank you very much for your response to (title of the essay or query). While I’m sorry you can’t use it at this time, I have another idea for you to consider,’ and mail it to the market. In the meantime, tweak the original query, if necessary and resubmit it to another publication. Your work won’t sell sitting on your hard drive. You’ve got to get it out there.”

Kelly believes that taking action is the best way to overcome rejection. I do, too.
Maybe you won’t get another rejection anytime soon. But if you do, you might want to keep and re-read these words of writer Barbara Kingsolver (The Bean Trees; High Tide in Tucson, Animal Dreams).

This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.”

© 2008 by Laverne Daley

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Sell All Rights to an Article? No Way!

Even if you don’t have a particular attachment to an article you’ve written, it’s not a good business practice to sell all rights. In fact, it’s best to have a standard policy of never selling all rights.

Consider the quoted words below of Dennis E. Hensley, who advises writers to write only about topics they feel they can modify for a variety of audiences. He and Holly G. Miller co-wrote The Freelance Writer’s Handbook: How to Succeed in a Competitive Business. In their book, Hensley tells about one piece he wrote in 1975, “How to Be an Effective Listener,” that sold to a total of 21 markets and earned him more than $6,500. Hensley said:

You cannot sell all rights to your articles and be competitive. It’s impossible. If you work two weeks doing interviews and research for a major feature, and then one week writing it, and a fourth week revising, typing and submitting it, you’ll produce only a dozen features a year.

“And that’s O.K., as long as you sell this year’s dozen again next year to new markets while you are writing a dozen new features. At the end of five years you’ll have sixty features in the mail simultaneously, and believe me, that’s being competitive. But if you sell all rights, you will be starting from scratch with each new assignment. You’ll have one manuscript in the mail at a time, and hyper-multiple-marketers like myself (and there are plenty of us) will just out-leverage you and completely crowd you out of the marketplace.”

Good advice. Of course, nowadays most freelancers submit their work by email, not regular mail, but the advice is the same for email.

This handbook is one of the most-consulted resources on my bookshelf. My dog-eared copy, with scores of highlighted passages and marginal notes, has served me well over the years. It offers lots of good, practical help for any freelance writer.

© 2008 by Laverne Daley

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Finding Experts for Your Articles

Where do you go to find expert sources for your articles? Whatever the topic, you need to quote people who have expert knowledge about the topic, people who can validate the information included in the article. Unless you quote experts, your article could be viewed as an opinion piece.

Colleges and universities are a great source for experts on scores of subjects, and many faculty members welcome the opportunity to share their knowledge and research with members of the media, including freelance writers. I’ve never failed to receive help from any faculty member I’ve approached when I needed information for an article.

It’s easy to find those experts because most colleges and universities provide lists of faculty members and their areas of expertise. For instance, my local university, the University of Memphis, offers experts in subjects ranging from the Academy Awards to African history, to landscape ecology, linguistics and personal injury law, to pregnancy, world politics and youth development through the arts.

Smaller colleges, such as Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, New York, also have experts in diverse subjects. At Hudson Valley, for instance, you can find experts in economic botany, public speaking, geriatrics, children’s behavior, and scores of other areas.

You can do in-person interviews or interview the experts by telephone or email. You can choose to interview experts at your local college or university, or select experts from schools at opposite ends of the country or beyond. Several times I’ve quoted experts from Canada in my articles. A google search is sure to turn up experts in any topic you choose to write about.

© 2008 by Laverne Daley

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