Should You Write for Free? for Clips? to Showcase Your Talent?

“Writers Wanted”

You’ve probably seen the sites that advertise for writers to contribute to their magazines or websites, but be warned: often there’s a catch. Many of the advertisers are looking for writers willing to write for free.

One says they’re a good website to develop your online writing presence. Another says, “Unfortunately I cannot pay you but you can use my site to show your talent.”

And this from another: “Pay in monetary terms is non-existent at this point, although I will certainly share if profit becomes a reality!”

In a Writer’s Digest magazine article this month, writer Linda Formichelli spells out the wise course to take for offers like these. In a section called “Red Flags for Writers,” she advises, “Say ‘no thanks’ to the editor who asks you to write for exposure, and use the time saved to pitch paying markets.”

That’s excellent advice.

Linda also advises writers to be wary of startup magazines because you might end up without a check when the publication suddenly folds, or for those who want you to write for clips instead of cash, for those who expect you to write on speculation, and those that pay on publication.

Linda is the co-author of The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success and The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock: The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Selling More Work Faster, and she has an impressive number of freelance magazine credits. Her writing advice is always first-rate. “The Red Flags for Writers” article is in the October 2008 issue of Writer’ Digest, which is on the newsstands now. We could all profit by reading the entire article.

Her website is here if you’d like to learn mow.

© 2008 by Laverne Daley

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Literally Speaking….

“Literally” and “figuratively” are two words that always stop me short, whether the words are spoken or written. It takes a few seconds for my mind to sort them out, to remember what each word means.

An article I clipped out of Writer’s Digest in March 2000 has been a big help in that effort. In a Tip Sheet column, Mark Rowh wrote this about “literally”:

Too often, writers use this term when it isn’t justified, as in ‘Paula literally laughed her head off.’ Literally doesn’t mean figuratively, but that something is actually true as stated. For the example to be true, Paula’s head would actually have to separate from her shoulders! An easy way to avoid this miscue is to substitute a word like nearly. A sentence such as ‘Paula nearly laughed her head off’ would convey the intended meaning.”

Of course, one can’t substitute “nearly” in every situation. If someone says to me, “Literally speaking, I don’t have a clue,” substituting the word “nearly” would make no sense. In those cases, I usually substitute the word “truly” (since literally means actually true) and that helps me understand what is being said.

I think I’ve been confused so often because the word “literally” reminds me of the word “literature,” and much of the literature I’ve read has been fiction.

“Figuratively,” on the other hand, means comparing different or dissimilar ideas or objects, as in this example from The Little Brown Handbook: “As I try to write, my mind is a blank slab of black asphalt.”

My mind does feel like a blank slab of black asphalt sometimes when I’m trying to get started on a writing project, but “literally” and “figuratively” usually are not responsible for that condition.

© 2008 by Laverne Daley

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How to Write and Sell “How-to” Articles

Brian Clark over at copyblogger.com got it exactly right when he posted this:

It’s no secret that “how-to” articles and blog posts are some of the most sought after, linked to, and bookmarked content online. People want useful information, and they’ll reward you by promoting it to others when you provide it.”

There’s even one website, www.ehow.com, consisting of nothing but how-to articles.

But readers of online content aren’t the only ones who like how-to articles. Magazine editors love ’em and so do their readers. Flip through publications on any newsstand and you’ll find scores of how-to articles geared to readers of each magazine.

At my local Barnes & Noble, in less than five minutes I found a diverse group of how-to articles, including these: Digital Camera World showed how to turn photographs into captivating watercolors; Budget Travel ran a piece on how to plan a girl friends getaway; Gardner’s World showed how to choose and care for fish in your back yard pond; Healing Back Pain had an article on how to prevent back injuries at work and at home; and Sky & Telescope offered advice on how to choose and use a telescope.

How-tos like these are relatively easy to write and sell. A how-to can be complex and technical, or as simple as directions for a recipe or a project a schoolchild can complete with ease.

There are multiple ways to write how-to articles. Here’s one that has worked for me:
Assume that readers know nothing about your topic, so jot down notes about everything they need to know. Next develop a rough outline by designating each note as a major point or a lesser point and decide on a logical order in which to present each major and lesser point. This will give you a rough outline that you can flesh out during the actual writing.

When you’re ready to begin writing, you need to hook your readers so they will want to read the entire article. You can use an anecdote, a startling statistic, a quotation, a “what’s new” approach, or whatever is an appropriate lead for your topic. You might even use the same hook used in your query letter to the editor (You do intend to query an editor for your how-to, don’t you? Except for a how-to that’s super simple and short, a query is the preferred way to go).

After the lead, next make sure you present all your information in logical order. You can highlight each point by using subtle breaks or subheads. You can include quotations from others who have successfully completed similar projects, or you can interject your own suggestions for specific points to make sure readers can clearly understand the process. Some writers merely use separate paragraphs for each point, linking them with appropriate transition sentences.

Wrap up your article with a satisfactory conclusion. There are multiple ways to finish, including a summary of the how-to, additional instructions, or a paragraph that links back to your opening hook.

Determine if the piece needs photographs, a sidebar with follow-up information, or a sketch or drawing to explain complex instructions. Ask yourself this question: am I leaving out anything that may be obvious to me but not to my readers?

Finally, polish each sentence and paragraph in your how-to to make it shine. Take out every unnecessary word and phrase and spell check everything, including photo cutlines and sidebars. And don’t forget to include a catchy how-to title.

© 2008 by Laverne Daley

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