So you’re 50 (or beyond) and you’re wondering how that will affect your ability to get your book or magazine article published. The answer? Depending on how you handle the situation, it should make no difference, according to lots of people.
Some time ago I read an article that covered the subject very well. The author was Scott Hoffman, one of the founding partners of Folio Literary Management. He said that writers should avoid all references to retirement, they should be an energetic presence willing to help promote their books, they should not date themselves, and they must convince editors that they have lot of other books inside them. Above all, he said, don’t reveal your age in a query letter to an agent or an editor.
Hoffman was talking about the problems some people have in getting their books published, but most of the situations also cover writers of magazine articles and pieces for the web.
For one thing, even though you are 50 or beyond, you are not retired. If you’re writing a book or magazine articles, you are doing it on a regular basis, not because you have extra time on hand. You might have a new career, but it is a full-time career. And, Hoffman said, “you want to convince your agent and editor that you’re not just a one-trick pony.”
Although you’re at work on more books or articles now, you’re eager to promote your work at the publishers and you have lots of ideas about how and where to do that. You don’t need to tell editors or agents about long-ago work history or about past military service (unless your work centers on those subjects), but do tell them about relevant credentials that don’t date you.
He says there are two times when you actually have to let your agent or editor know your age. When someone asks how old you really are, you must give him or her that information. Never lie. The other time to do that is when you think it might help. Be sure also to fill in the details when information about your experience or credentials will show why you’re the right person to write this specific book or magazine article.
Hoffman ended his article by detailing several specific over-50 writers who published books: Anna Sewell sold her classic novel, Black Beauty, at 57; Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) published Out of Africa at 52; Laura Ingalls Wilder published the Little House on the Prairie series while in her 60s. And Bangladeshi writer Nirad Chaudhuri published his first book at 54, its sequel at age 90, and his final book, Three Horsemen of the New Apocalypse, when he was 100. Their experiences should be enough for anyone to follow.
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Editorial Calendars — are you using them to help sell your writing? You should. They are great tools to help in targeting your article ideas.
The calendars list specific topics that the publications will cover in the coming year. Even though the calendars are made up for advertisers so they can plan their advertising budget for the months ahead, at the same time they give writers a view of which publications to target with article ideas, and when.
That “when” is a valuable help. Most publications prepare their editorial content several months before each issue appears. You can take advantage of that fact by sending out your queries four to six months ahead of their publication schedule. And that schedule is in the calendar.
Most print and electronic publishers produce an editorial calendar every year. I usually start looking for them for the next year in early September and October. And no matter what kind of publication you’re targeting, you can probably find its calendar on the Internet. 2011 looks like a great year to search for the calendars.
Last fall, I searched on Google for “2011 Editorial Calendars” and hundreds of them turned up. They covered every kind of publication you can name, including popular magazines, association publications, trade journals and more.
You can also contact a publication and ask for a copy of their calendar. Publications send them out to advertisers (and prospective advertisers) all the time, but it’s so easy to find the calendars on my computer that I prefer going after them that way.
It’s really helpful to rely on the calendars in my marketing efforts. Try it. I think you’ll soon call them your new best friend.
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Do you write headlines for your articles? I always do, although I know many
other freelancers who shy away from headlines. They know that editors are responsible for providing the headlines and they prefer to let the editors do their jobs. For my part, I happen to believe that the headline I write might win me points with the editor. And I always hope the editor will not delete my headline in favor of one of his or her own.
A headline that I write can, I think, help move my article up on the editor’s reading pile. And if I’m sending in a query and not a finished article, I always include a headline I call a “working title” in my query. It shows, I think, that I am thinking like an editors. And it may help the editor want to see my article.
Headlines are really easy to write and for the most part and the simplest headlines can help to sell an article. Most of the headlines you find in magazines contain a promise to the reader. If a travel magazine carries your headline, “Find the Perfect Vacation Spot,” the reader assumes you’re going to write about a resort tailor-made for you and your family. And what reader could resist a title called “How to Save Money on Your Taxes.”
In writing your headlines, just concentrate on why readers should spend time with your article. Will it improve their marriage? Will it give them four quick ways to get dinner on the table tonight? Will if save them money on their weekly grocery shopping trips? Help them repair a leaky faucet? The answers to questions like these could help you create attractive headlines for the article you intend to write.
Sometimes you can just take a familiar phrase and turn it around to fashion an article title. You might use a pun or a play on words to get your message across. You can use the same sort of creativity as in your article to come up with the perfect headline for your article.
The most important thing to remember about headline writing: You just have to get started.
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Way back in 2007, I wrote a post beginning this way:
A pack rat? Guilty. I admit it. I’ve been a pack rat for years. But I don’t hoard everything. No old newspapers, balls of string, or useless items for me. I hoard articles about writing. My treasures are magazine clippings, some yellowed with age, stored in manila folders, labeled and ready for me to read at will. The clippings that I’ve saved for years have been an education in writing. They’ve taught me nearly as much as my four years in Journalism school.
Now, several years later, I’m still hoarding and still learning from what other writers have written. Today I was scanning an old writing magazine and came across an article, “Forum for Thought,” that got me thinking about creativity. The article contained a copy of a 2002 post by James A. Ritchey that caught my eye:
For me, spicing up my creativity means getting away from the computer. I try to meet a new person each week, and I try to go to new places whenever possible. A flea market; a county fair; a play; a little league game; a political dinner; a mountain man convention. And wherever I go, I make it a point to get into a deep conversation with someone I’ve never met. People love to talk. All you have to do is be willing to listen.
And I try to do new things whenever possible. Bungee jumping, learning to crochet, riding a bull at a small rodeo — anything that’s new and different, exciting or mild.
It doesn’t take much of this to spice up my creativity and make me eager to get back to the keyboard.
Just reading his post is enough to glue me to the keyboard. His are all great ways to spice up my creativity and they make me eager to start writing again. And just one of them — a deep conversation with someone I’ve never met before — seems like a great way to get ideas for articles.
How about you? Do you have any tips or quotes for spicing up your creativity?
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Have you every written a personal experience article? Try it. I think you’ll like it. They’re easy to do and they are one of my favorite forms of writing.
These articles don’t have to be earthshaking or catastrophic; they can, in fact, be fairly simple. They do need some tension or drama but the dramatic or the tension level doesn’t need to be high. Just think of a series of events that happened to you that might be worth sharing with others. I remember one piece I wrote that was about a Saturday afternoon ritual at our house every week when I was growing up — about how my father shined his shoes to get ready for church the next day. It was simple, but it was a personal experience piece. And it worked.
Ever spent time with a famous person, either before or after he or she gained fame? Have you lived in or visited an exotic place? Had an accident or illness or attempted a difficult feat? Set up a party for a group of school children? Taken part in a special holiday celebration? Write about it.
The experience doesn’t even have to be your own. If a friend or colleague had a memorable event, you can write about that. Think about the event, put it into action, talk about the characters involved, the outcome, the lesson you or they learned. Limit the statements about how you felt to two or three specific actions.
Let the story build on its own emotion so readers will relate to what’s happened. Keep the piece smooth and tight. If possible, come up with a surprise ending.
Where should you send your piece? Family and women’s publications are good markets for personal experience pieces, as are many local newspapers and magazines. Look for other markets that use these pieces. The magazine section of a bookstore is a good place to see which other publications use personal experience pieces. Just checking through a variety of them will show you how popular personal experiences pieces are.
Also check the library for copies of additional publications and study the style and structure of the personal experience pieces you find in them. The key to getting these pieces published is to keep them in the mail — either U.S. mail or email. And you should know that, In general, publications pay better than average for good personal experiences.
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You know, I suppose, that I’ve not posted anything here for quite a while. That’s because I needed to take a break from writing. Part of that decision was wanting to take a new look at what I was writing and make some improvements. The other part was because the breaks of life kept happening, including our house becoming flooded.
All that water was such a surprise. It was a bright sunshiny day, no rain, and I was multi-tasking by washing clothes while finishing up a nearly due article manuscript. After I got to the end of the article, proofread it and sent it to my editor, I got up and walked through to the other part of the house — straight into soggy wet carpeting and floors covered with water.
My husband came in from outdoors about the same time after finishing some yard work and he was as startled as I to see all that water. It covered the living room, dining room, kitchen, hall and master bedroom and closet — most of the house, in fact, except for two bedrooms and a bath. Quite an accomplishment for one small washing machine.
Seems that the control for the on/off function failed and did not shut off the water at the end of the washing cycle. And so water poured out for quite some time. We tried to get the water out of the house — with very little success, so I phoned our insurance agent. Their assessment folks and repair people arrived at the house in less than half an hour. They used machines to get rid of the water; they also pulled up our carpeting and our hardwood flooring, since all that was ruined.
Little did we know that it would take five weeks before the carpeting and hardwood would be replaced and the painting finished. If you’ve ever had flooding, you know how inconvenient that was.
It was also the perfect time, I felt, for my break from writing. We had wall-to-wall concrete floors with 7 large (and loud) industrial fans blowing over the wet areas 24 hours a day, and later an almost constant stream of workers coming in to reposition fans, measure, consult, fill out forms, and finally to begin reinstalling carpeting and flooring.
With all that going on, being away from writing seemed strange at first but I got used to it after a while. Now with the house all repaired, I’m turning on the computer again and writing. I hope my break from writing will lead to many more (and better) articles.
It’s good to be back!
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Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen is one of my favorite freelance writers. She is a full-time freelancer and blogger in Vancouver and she always comes up with posts that not only have fine writing quips but also practical writing and blogging tips. A good example is her recent post (October 12, 2010) on “How to Ask for More Money Writing — Tips for Freelance Writers.
These tips, according to Laurie, should help increase your per word rates from 50 cents to a dollar or two per word, or from $20 to $50 per hour. And the tips are quickly read — just five of them and you have help you can use. She says it may be easier than you think to make more money writing.
The tips range from advising you to ask questions about how much money the client is offering, to being clear about why you are worth $50 an hour as a freelance writer. Others include giving reasons that support your request for more money, taking your clients’ and editors’ situations into account, and expecting to negotiate for more money writing.
My own tip for you is to visit her site. You can reach it here. There you’ll learn details about the tips she is sharing. I think you’ll be glad you did.
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