Saturday, March 18, 2017

Mastering the Possibilities

For years, Mastercard brought in customers with the now-famous slogan, “Master the possibilities.” You can also apply it to your freelancing career. But with freelancing it’s less about using your credit card than figuring out how to find outlets for your work.

Today’s publishing environment offers a wealth of possibilities. It used to be that freelancers had only the print world of magazines and newspapers to choose from when searching for markets. Now that rather closed market has been expanded to include all sorts of publications, both print and digital.

Readers resisted the digital publications for quite a while, but the appearance of e-readers and tablets like the Kindle and Nook gave readers an infinite number of choices.

Writers, too, were a bit hesitant to write for digital markets because most of them didn’t pay. Unfortunately, many still don’t. But breaking in is a lot easier digitally. You can easily study past issues of an online magazine or Web site just be searching for it. Searching offers another advantage—you can see easily see what subject matter is trending. You’re shots in the dark will be fewer. 

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 planning on writing mostly books, using shorter pieces to promote them? And while both require the same writing skills, each requires a different mind set and marketing know how.

As little as 20 years ago, all you had to do was send your pieces to publications that might print them and you’d get paid—maybe not very much, but you would get something. Since there weren’t very many publications or writers, competition wasn’t as keen. But with the advance of technology and the creation of the Internet, all that changed. 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. For at least the first 10 years, readers and writers looked at the Internet as a chaotic medium for amateurs. Publishers who did have online publications had very low budgets, so they didn’t pay for articles. And while they were a good way to build up your publishing clips, you can’t live on non-paying markets.

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.

A good way to start out and get your work out there is to write a weekly blog. When blogs first began, the recommendation was to publish a blog daily. But a weekly blog becomes more like a column and readers will follow it if you offer them information that they can use.

While you’re blog starts to build a following, you can study one of the 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 is the least expensive with a list price of $50, although you can purchase it online directly from Writer’s Digest for $30. You can also get it by monthly subscription. It features over 8,000 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 book has it’s good points, it offers a lot of markets that just don’t pay well or not at all. Plus, it’s so widely used that many of the publications listed get overwhelmed with submissions.

Literary Marketplace claims it’s the “ultimate insider’s guide” to the publishing industry. For a whopping $360 for first-time buyers, 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 often you’re repeatedly writing for 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 edition 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 using the reference edition at the library.

Once you've decided on a specialty, you should subscribe to the best publications in your chosen field, or track them down regularly wherever you can. If you’re serious about book publishing, then you’ll want to read Publishers Weekly regularly at your local library or online.

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.

No comments: