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Doing the Write Thing

February 28th, 2014

I was thrilled to win the Writer of the Year award. Yet, at one time I was thinking of giving up writing. I was spending extensive time and effort collecting rejections or, worse, not getting any response. But, hard-pressed editors hadn’t asked me to contribute!

Reviewing my submissions I realised that I was writing what I thought editors should publish, not what they needed and wanted.

Also, I was aiming at leading magazines fuelled by staff writers and respected names. I lowered my sights, going for definite wins with publications hungry for copy – local history articles in the church newsletter, a health piece for a charity quarterly and a series on cricket clubs in the local paper. Time-consuming freebies, but on subjects familiar to me and with guaranteed acceptance, getting myself known and boosting experience of interviewing, researching and, importantly, editors. (Tip: discover when your target publication goes to the printers, your article could be overlooked if it lands on the busy editor’s desk in the final run up.)

Then I re-visited Writers Bureau manuals – spot on advice! Stick to things you know. Analyse your preferred publication. What topics does it cover? Are freelances accepted? Length of sentences, paragraphs and word count? Don’t perfect a great article that doesn’t match the house style, condemning you to spend ages hawking it round in forlorn hope. I wrote a cracking short story only to find that the intended magazine’s website said no submissions were required because they’d already got more than enough.

There are many magazines. Browse WH Smith shelves. Identify a suitable publication – one you could write for. Go to the magazine website – are there guidelines for contributors? If so study them and comply. I looked at The Lady when they liked anniversary pieces and wrote one, adapted to their approach. I’ve had character-full cats and featured two of them for Your Cat. The articles eventually appeared, well paid. I also filed short and easy fillers and letters with Bella – comparatively they were more lucrative than lengthy articles.

Next I struck gold when visiting a new local free paper with my wife to advertise her Spanish tuition. Chatting to the editor I discovered that they were branching into sport and readily agreed to report on cricket. Now I’m covering eight different sports throughout the year and writing for their sister county magazine and different sporting publications. I’m constantly at sports clubs talking to members, developing a wide range of contacts leading to opportunities for sporting, news and local interest stories, and I get tip offs from friends and their connections, too. Two editors now accept unsolicited pieces – until that stage is reached always send an offer letter and get a green light before devoting valuable time on spec.

It’s great to be busy with a conveyor belt of articles and projects. But, I’m not complacent and hope that mentioning some of the pitfalls I’ve encountered might help you. Believe in yourself – good luck and KEEP WRITING!

Martin Read





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