Friday, November 25, 2011

Master the Possibilities

The now-famous phrase, “master the possibilities,” used by Mastercard in its promotional campaigns also applies to freelance writing. But with freelancing it’s less about whipping out your credit card than figuring out how to find markets for your work.

Before you go searching, however, you have to figure out exactly what type of writing you want to do. Are you planning to write articles for publication, either in print or online or both? Or are you more into business writing, preparing press releases, ghost-written articles for trade magazines, and such? While you can work in both directions, it’s better to chose one and stick with it. And while both require the same writing skills, each requires a different mind set.

It used to be that publication was more insular. As a freelancer, you’d send your pieces to publications that might print them and you’d get paid. Today, with the advance of technology, the publishing world has exploded with what seems an endless list of possibilities. Unfortunately, just as there are many more opportunities to get published, so are there many more, especially online,  that don’t pay anything. And you can’t live on those. With the ease of online publishing and self-publishing through e-books, many more would-be writers are finding it easier to get published, even if they have to do it themselves, thus by-passing the hurdles of the traditional route. So competition is fierce.

To begin with, you need to check one of the primary annual market guides—Writer’s Market or Literary Marketplace.

The first on the list, Writer’s Market, published by Writer’s Digest Books, has been around since 1921 and of the three is the least expensive with a list price of about $30. It features over 6,000 listings of newspaper and magazine markets, book publishers, including small presses, playwriting and screenwriting markets, and even those for greeting cards. Each listing gives you the information you need to see if your work will fit. And while there are many markets in which your work will be a good match, there are 10 times as many that it will not. And while the two-and-a-half-inch book has it’s good points, it offers a lot of markets that just don’t pay well or not at all.

Literary Marketplace claims it’s the “ultimate insider’s guide” to the publishing industry. For a whopping $339, it ought to be. It offers 54 sections in which it organizes publishers, agents, advertising agencies, associations, distributors, and events. It features twice the number of listings as Writer’s Market, but concentrates mostly on book publishing. Since its cost is prohibitive, you’ll have to use it at your local library.

Whether you use one or the other or both of these annuals will depend on how well you’re repeatedly tapping certain markets, how good you are at selling spin-off material, and where you wish to focus your publishing efforts each year.

As you progress in your freelancing career, you’ll find more markets that aren’t listed in the above annuals. Publishers of all kinds choose whether they want to be published in them. Many refuse because doing so opens them up to receiving tons of correspondence from too many wannabee writers who have neither the skill or talent to write well. They prefer to be more selective. Also, new technologies create new markets. In the last five years many opportunities have opened up for educational and recreational material for home and school computers.

Because editors play musical chairs and their requirements change regularly, it’s a good idea to use the latest version of each of the annuals. It’s important to know the exact name, spelling, title, etc., of a publication’s editor. If you’re going to impress editors, you must get their names right.

In the case of Writer’s Market, you can check out last year’s edition from the stacks at your library, find what publications look good, and make a list of them, then go back to the library and find those on your list in the latest edition in the reference section and note the changes. Because of the high cost of Literary Marketplace, you’ll have to do all your work on the reference edition at the library.

You can keep up with changes during the year by watching the market columns in Writer's Digest Magazine and The Writer, the only two magazines devoted exclusively to writing. You can also subscribe to the Writer’s Market online and catch up with changes there.

If you've decided on a specialty, you'll subscribe, I'm sure, to the best publications in your chosen field, or track them down regularly wherever you can. If you’re serious about book publishing and not just publishing a book, then reading Publishers Weekly regularly at your local library is a must.

Whether markets appear to be a broadening or a row of locked doors is entirely up to you, your energies, ambitions, and skills as a writer, promoter, and, most importantly, a salesperson.

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