Monday, October 12, 2009

Published: Tip #13--8 Tips For Getting Articles Then Books Published

How to Get Published

If you're just starting out, you might as well know the truth now--you have to be "famous" (at least well-known) to get published by a major publisher. Unfortunately, I'm not kidding. (Don't believe me? Then how did Paris Hilton's dog Tinkerbell get published?) At the very least, the publisher needs to know you personally or know your best friend personally to consider your manuscript. It is difficult to convince them to take a chance on an unknown unless you have unique credentials to cover a topic that fits in with their general themes. One intern at a major, glossy magazine finally told me what I always suspected, "We never read unsolicited manuscripts."

If you want to get paid (or at least read by more than your mother), then you need to find a way to start writing about topics of interest to readers. Once editors and readers get to know and trust you, then you can start branching out with your own personal stories.
If you have a message that will inspire, make your readers smile, or teach them a truth that can change their lives, then you need to know how to get published with the least amount of wasted time and money.

Here's how:

1. Build your portfolio--local newspapers and magazines WANT to print your words

The easiest way to get your thoughts into print and begin gathering "your" audience, is to submit letters to the editor (don't forget to include your hometown when you do) and to submit stories to those free weekly newspapers and monthly magazines you see lying around. They are short staffed and welcome free stories with a good photo or illustration (thoroughly caption your image and only send them work that won't violate anyone's copyright).

2. Call local editors directly, offering a story for free

I finally began earning money as a freelance writer when I called a Rockland County magazine offering them a story I did on a friend in the area who beat the Guinness World Record time for paddling down the Mississippi River. The editor replied, "That sounds very interesting, but we have a limited budget and won't be able to pay you." I assured him that was fine. I just needed to get my foot in the door.

That article lead to my very first assignment (though still unpaid) from the magazine: "Will you go to Nyack and find people to discuss Russell Crowe's stay there while he's working on his current film in New York City?" I have to admit, it was a bit exciting to walk into bars with a reporter's notebook and pen and ask around if anyone had seen Russell Crowe. After uncovering a few "Russell Crowe" sightings, the magazine offered me the chance to write the cover story, "The 7 Wonders of Rockland," and I was to be paid! The response to the story was great--not only did people call the magazine asking for several copies to use as a sightseeing guide, but a local developer contacted me with an offer to write about the towns where they were building. They paid my expenses to sleep in a bed & breakfast and eat in fancy restaurants in order to review them. They also paid for my husband Jim's expenses in exchange for digital photographs of our travels.

Although this magazine and developer were paying me to write on a specific topic, I was still able to share my personal insights and "voice" within. The local magazine went on to hire me to write reviews of hair salons (thus I got a free haircut from a lady who styles the heads of celebrities), and other places in my area.

3. Contact editors by name at national magazines

It's almost pointless to send a query letter to an editor without addressing it directly to them. You can find an editor's name by flipping through the pages of the big general books like the "Writer's Market" and "Literary Market Place," which are probably available at your library or local bookstore. I've always found my updated contact information by sitting on the floor of bookstores and libraries and skimming through magazines looking for the current editors, or I call publishers to find out who the submissions editor is.

4. Write a query letter that grabs their interest right away

The next step is the query letter, which introduces you and your work to a publisher. I've had the most luck when I begin the letter letting them know I've read their publication or I simply jump right into my story, hoping to catch their interest in the first sentence. For example, this query letter landed me a publisher for my memoir, "Anything But a Dog!" It began: "Inevitably, most kids ask for a dog. And who can blame them? Dogs like Lassie adore you, keep you warm when you're caught in a blizzard and drag you out of burning buildings when you're unconscious. But by the time we're adults, we've learned the truth: dogs urinate on your new wall-to-wall carpets; dig holes in your leather recliners to hide their rawhide bones, and bite your neighbor's kid. So when my seven-year-old daughter Jackie asked for a dog, I said no. Our younger daughter Elizabeth was disabled and wouldn't be able to protect herself from a frisky animal. But I did make Jackie a promise: 'If God brings a dog to our doorstep, you can have it.' In the meantime, I offered her a hamster..."

5. Learn how to use a digital camera

Magazines and newspapers need images to make their pages come alive--and many have had to lay off their photographers. Offer to provide images with your story, and if that's not possible, suggest in your query letter an image they might want to consider. In my historical story, "The Hanging of Henry Gale," I wrote to the magazine: "After reading the article about the Revolutionary War in your June issue, I thought you'd be interested in my story, 'The Hanging of Henry Gale.' My ancestor Henry Gale was a captain in the war who later became a leader in Shays' Rebellion. He was found guilty of treason and sentenced to hang. I can submit a photo of his headstone and suggest an illustration of Shays' Rebellion from the New York Public Library image database."

6. Get out from behind your computer and network

Meeting people in the industry is important. You'll never be "discovered" spending all of your time at a desk. Attending a writer's conference or taking a writing class improves your chances of finding work. At 45 years of age, I finally took my first writing class at Rockland Community College--Introduction to Journalism. Not only did I finally learn that periods should be placed before the end quotation mark, but the instructor was a copy editor who helped get my work published in her newspaper. I also joined the 18-19 year-old student staff of the College paper and learned how write and edit for that. When the College had an opening for a writer in their Camus Communications Department, I was offered the job.

7. Give readers what they want--but stay true to your voice

Why do you need to please your editors/readers first when starting out as a freelance writer? Only when you have developed an audience can you can branch out and truly say what you want to say.

When it came time to write the humorous account of how a homeless dog found his way onto my disabled daughter's couch, I wanted to secure a publisher before spending the time finishing the manuscript. So, I wrote a book proposal (required when seeking a publisher for non-fiction), sharing my harrowing search for just the right pet and analyzing the market, stating who my "readers" already were and who I thought would also be interested in my story. My query letter interested a few agents and publishers enough to ask for my book proposal. One publisher liked the proposal, so we signed a contract and "Anything But a Dog!" was published.

8. Write from your soul.

When you write, write from your heart--really share your soul. Don't write what everyone else is writing. If you lay your heart bare, your readers may just find a kindred spirit in you.

Lisa Saunders, Website:
Author of the books, "Anything But a Dog!"; "Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife" (also a play); "Ride a Horse, Not an Elevator" and the free e-book, "How to Get Published." I am a full-time writer for the State University of New York at Rockland, a member of its Speakers Bureau, the parent representative for the Congenital CMV Foundation and a STOP CMV area representative. My books are available through me, from the publisher, or through See links to my books on the buttons to your right.

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