The easiest and fastest way to break into major magazines is through short articles, fillers and reprint sales. Over the past few years, many magazines have begun to realize that sections of short articles on timely subjects are popular with their busy readers.
With few exceptions, most successful magazines include one or more of these sections and, for editors, they provide a dual service. Not only do readers like them, they are the perfect proving ground for new freelancers. Editors know that writing short, concise articles is no easy task. If a writer with whom they are not familiar can complete these assignments quickly and accurately, the editor will eventually become confident enough to assign columns and features.
For the freelancer, these articles are also helpful. They give you a chance to test your skills without the major investment of time and money that features involve. Additionally, writing short articles helps hone your ability to edit what you write, and also gives you the opportunity to learn how to do short, concise interviews.
There are many writers who specialize in short articles, never putting much effort into graduating to features. The fact is that you can make a living writing nothing but shorts and fillers. However, you will not build much of a writing future that way.
The prestige that comes with being a column and feature writer may eventually allow you to write your own ticket as a professional. If you want to make a career of writing for magazines, you will find that features in your portfolio impress new editors far more than many short articles.
Several times writers have had an editor call or write to say they are not interested in an article on a certain query, but would like to buy the query itself for publication as a filler. You should always agree to this, as the query can still be used to approach other magazines for a story assignment and, if nothing else, you have been paid for the time it took to write the query.
About once every couple of months or so, look back through the articles and queries you have written, to see if any of the subjects could be shortened for a filler. Also, as you search for article material, stay alert for stories that may not be suitable for articles, but could be written in 200 words or less.
Fillers should be presented the same way as articles; however, interviews are not usually necessary. Instead of the name and address of interviewees, state the source of the information at the end of the filler. Do not copy articles in the general media word for word when writing fillers, unless you are quoting a particular publication.
If your source is the newspaper, for example, it is perfectly okay to say, "according to the Wabash Gazette, 'the funeral rites of the Ethiopian magpie are unique among birds.'" If, however, you use these exact words without crediting the source, you are plagiarizing.
Most of the press releases you receive from universities and PR departments are available for reprint as is. However, you should never copy a press release and submit it as a filler. There are several magazines that pay for fillers "from published sources," but sending these is something you should leave for the amateurs. When you write a filler, say it in your own words, slanting it towards the magazine you are writing for. It says nothing about your writing ability if you simply clip and send articles from published sources. Besides, others may also be sending the same material, and editors will classify you with them as unprofessional.
It takes so little time and expense to create fillers from the material you have at hand, and to be alert to filler material while researching at the library, that you should regularly submit fillers. You may even develop working relationships with certain editors who handle nothing but fillers by sending batches of five or ten to each about four times a year.
Though income from fillers will not sustain you, they can provide you with a kind of "found money," when one is accepted and you get a check in the mail for $15.00 to $75.00. (There are a few people who say they make a living writing nothing but fillers, and this may be so, but we find it hard to believe.)
Studying the reprint market takes time, and, unless you have some published articles to re-market, it makes no sense to spend hours going through Writer's Market in search of those magazines that buy previously published articles. After you do have published articles, however, you should take the time to study the reprint markets.
Submitting articles for reprint can be done two ways: clip and send the articles themselves, or make good, clear photocopies of them to send. I prefer the latter, as it is far less expensive than ordering back copies of the magazines, and full sheets of 20-pound bond are a lot easier to handle than the flimsy clips from magazines.
When submitting articles for resale, always write "REPRINT SUBMISSION" in the lower left-hand corner of the envelope. Here again, it is best to mail them flat, however, this can be a problem in some cases. Reader's Digest, for example, no longer accepts unsolicited manuscripts, and if the mail sorter does not notice that the envelope is marked, identifying it as a reprint submission, it may be returned unopened.
Before you can sell an already published article, you must have the "right" to do so. This means that you have to have sold only "first rights," to the first publisher. If you have sold "all rights," you need to get the magazine to release the article to you for resale. In most cases this is simply a matter of asking the editor. In some cases, however, the magazine may not be able to return the right to resell the article.
There are a number of publications that occasionally publish books containing excerpts, or whole articles that appeared in past issues of the magazine. These magazines are unlikely to turn over reprint rights to a writer, because they may want to reprint those articles themselves. For the most part, however, editors who buy all rights will reassign them to you upon request.
Writer's Market thoroughly covers the subject of copyrighting your material, and what the different types of "rights" you sell can mean. I recommend reading this section carefully to get an in-depth picture of the terms and their ramifications.
Income from selling reprints does not amount to much, as most articles are aimed at a specific publication and have little appeal to other editors. Also, if the subject is timely, the delay caused by waiting till after it is first published can render it out of date. However, as with fillers, selling reprints takes so little time and effort, you should build the process into your regular routine, once you have something to sell. The $50.00 or $100.00 you may receive only once or twice a year will more than compensate for the expense in copies and postage, and there is always the chance of a four-figure sale to Reader's Digest.
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