Posted by: comfortjunkie | August 29, 2008

The incredible true story of how I sold my first big article.

But first, can I say how sorry I am to the person who was googling “why cats shit in my bed?” But thanks for the laugh.

Okay, this post is dedicated to one of my favorite bloggers, Wide Lawns.

Although I used to write a great deal when I was a kid, once I hit corporate America, I never really wrote much that wasn’t required of me or for one of my many blogs that I’ve had. The first of which, is still up here. Anyway, last fall I basically was left with no other option but to use the only thing I had left to make money (well, the only thing I was willing to consider using to make money anyway), my brain. So although I had wanted to do it my whole life, I never had the courage to attempt a real career in freelance writing until all my other options were shot. The first thing I did was renew my subscription at Writer’s Market.

I did a search for magazines that had writer’s guidelines available online and I went to every single one and bookmarked it. Then I did a google search for “writer’s guidelines” and “submissions.” I bookmarked all of those too. I should qualify that, I bookmarked all the ones that PAID. There is ONE and only one way I will work for free and that is for charity OR major exposure. Make that two ways (I was a journalism major, sue me). So, that said, I now had a list of paying markets. All I had to do was come up with a story idea that the editor might accept.

I read this article and several more like it about choosing titles for stories then I started my list of titles. The trick is that you not only have to convince an editor that you have a good idea, but that YOU are the one who should write it, so I went with angles where I would have an obvious advantage. My goal was to position myself as an “expert” at something and since I happen to live in Mexico, I would be a Mexico expert. There are only so many things you can write about Mexico. Destination stories, reviews and food. The story that I pitched to a food magazine was titled, “Three Easy Mexican Recipes You’ve Never Made at Home but Should.”

My query went like this, “As you know, Mexican food is a perennial favorite with both cooks and diners. From the simple, low-cost ingredients to the filling portions, Mexican food is a great choice for families or for parties. It’s time to step away from tacos and enchiladas and try other, simple Mexican recipes. I have a short article that might fit nicely in your Good Food Fast or New Dishes sections. I’ve written an article called Three Easy Mexican Recipes You‘ve Never Made at Home but Should that lists low-cost recipes that are delicious and easy to make. Of course, this article can be expanded or contracted to fit your needs.

As a published writer, long time blogger and permanent resident of Mexico, I would love to be able to submit this article for your consideration. Please see my website for further information or to view additional writing samples.

Please let me know if you are interested in this article and how I may best submit it to you.”

See how short and focused the pitch is? I told her WHY I thought HER readers would like it. I told her WHERE I thought the story would fit in the editorial scope of the magazine and I told her WHY I was the best person to write it. Two days later she wrote that she was interested and wanted to know what the recipes were. I sent her a couple of recipes and she considered them and said they’d like to think about it and would be in touch. That was at the end of January. In the middle of February, I followed up with a polite reminder and an idea for another story. I didn’t hear back until July. They were still interested but now they wanted the story tied to a person, perhaps a chef. Fortunately, I was working with a client who owned a Mexican restaurant and I volunteered her or her chef.  Another month went by. In August they decided that they didn’t want to go that way, and they had just run several Mexican recipes, did I have any more ideas? I gave them several more recipes to choose from. Finally today (!!!!) they decided on two recipes and an accompanying article, absolutely nothing to do with my original pitch, but I’m not complaining! They sent over the contract and work order and gave me a deadline.

It was certainly not the only magazine I queried. I went through my list from national magazines to trade magazines and tried to come up with a compelling article that I could provide that would fit their publication. I didn’t limit myself to any one type of story or magazine. I think the Cosmo approach to titles is a good one so I generally used that (list approach). The truth is that after my initial pitching of magazines, I sort of got discouraged and stopped doing it, focusing instead on getting more clients and promoting my business. Now that I have several published articles (this is just my first NATIONAL one), I have a lot more credibility in the field, so pitching will be easier, I think. I’m ready to try it again.  I have three feature stories coming out in October for a new magazine that is launching in the US and Mexico, I write for a very popular website having to do with travel and living in Mexico and now I’ve got both this article and a book. BUT I did not have any of that when I made my first round of pitches and I don’t think that you need to IF you have a good idea and a great query.

Just to toss in some obvious stuff… I bookmarked a TON of writing websites and read them and their archives all the time. I read every article I could find on queries and pitches, editors, and getting published in magazines. I did NOT buy a book, even an eBook although there are many, many out there. There is enough free info online.

I made sure to visit the publication website and find the name of either the editor in chief or the section editor that I was pitching, even if the email on the submissions page was generic (info@ or submissions@). I always addressed my email to the correct person.

Since I can’t buy English magazines here at a reasonable price, I made every person who visited me last winter bring me all the magazines they could carry. I read airline magazines, women’s magazines, travel magazines, everything I could get my hands on and tried to get ideas for stories for each one. The only magazines I didn’t bother with were the ones that only accepted queries and submissions through the mail for logistic reasons. I bought magazines I wouldn’t normally read if I thought I might have a story to pitch so that I could read what they published (and therefore liked) and find a section that it would fit in.

I’ll do another post tomorrow on how I pitched the editor of the guidebook (which I found listed on Craigslist).

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