ACFW Journal Extra: Writing Up: One Author’s Experience
Editor’s Note: When Jennifer Slattery proposed an article for the ACFW Journal on using freelance article writing as a way to build your audience—and pay for the privilege of writing fiction!—I remember thinking, “Who better to write this?” And I was right. Here, in an ACFW Journal Extra, she shares from her journey in this arena. You might want to take notes.
A while back, while my manuscripts collected dust on editors’ desks, I decided to try freelance writing. Sometime later, with very little but sore fingers to show for it, I wondered if it was worth my time. You see, I had received zero, zilch, nada, bupkis for my efforts.
But instead of giving up, I decided to work smarter. After all, if novel writing could be learned, so could article writing. Right? Boy, was I right. I learned many many things, but here are the four that float to the top even now, many months later.
1. Queries should be intriguing, yet succinct
According to Melodie David, editor of Media For Living, writers need to use their words sparingly. “I like to see a succinct statement regarding the article idea, without much elaboration. Editors … don’t need time wasted on a lot of build up or personal asides. Perhaps an excellent sentence or question to attract attention—to hint at the writer’s style—but not a lot of elaboration.”
Be specific. What’s your estimated word count? What points will you raise? What statistics, resources, or Bible quotes will you use to back up those points? Often, bullet points work best. When writing the article, make sure to deliver everything promised in your query—and on time, if not early! This will often get you another assignment.
2. I am not the expert
Regardless how great my ideas are, unless it’s a personal piece, editors don’t care what “Jennifer Slattery” thinks. They do, however, care what industry experts have to say. And thanks to the Web, finding credible experts to speak on whatever subject you’re writing on isn’t difficult.
It can be hard to secure an expert quote if you haven’t been assigned to write an article. But often, letting an editor know you plan to seek out quotes from experts is enough. Then, once an article is accepted, you can locate the appropriate professionals.
When making blind calls, it’s best to anticipate potential concerns ahead so you can allay your expert’s fears during your initial contact. For example, many experts fear misrepresentation. To avoid this, I offer to send the person quoted the completed article prior to print. Assure them you will consider any changes they deem necessary. This allows you to correct any errors or misquotes, which in turn increases your credibility with the contact—and the editor.
3. Keep all notes and contact information
With minor tweaking and reworking, articles can often be sold to numerous publications (be certain what rights you sell). Similarly, by keeping record of experts in different disciplines—specifically those who have been helpful in the past—you can reduce your Internet searching in the future.
4. Stay focused on the reader
What information can I provide? Is the piece encouraging or challenging in some way, or am I merely retelling an event that had significance to me but lacks take-away value?
Every editor is looking for take-away value for their readers. If you provide it, your next assignment for them will be easier to get. To evaluate the take-away value of your article, read through the piece and jot down the main points. Ask, “How will this benefit my reader?” Once you’ve answered that question, ask, “Have I made this benefit, action, or challenge clear? Have I provided direct application?” If not, do so—rewrite until the take-away is clear.
Taking an idea from thought to print is never easy, but by crafting clear, concise, and attention grabbing queries; by taking the time to get relevant quotes from experts or those with standing in the field; and by focusing on the needs and questions of the magazine’s reader, you, too, will find success.