Friday, October 31, 2008

Do you NaNo?

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is nearly upon us! As I write this, I'm at my region's kick-off party with about 30 other people. Quite impressive, especially considering there are many more in the area who couldn't make it!

What the heck is NaNoWriMo, you ask? Great question! During the month of November every year, thousands of people simultaneously (well, sort of) embark on the task of writing an entire 50,000 word (or more) novel within the month. It's designed to inspire you and get you writing, to let the juices flow and just write.

So many people who want to write a novel never even start, and others start but never finished. It's easy to get bogged down, trying to make it perfect the first time, but that is a mistake! No novel is perfect the first go. Rather than worry about it, "embrace the suck" as a fellow NaNoer put it (sorry for not crediting you but I forget who it was): just write and get the damned thing down on, word processor and worry about fixing it later. Edit it in December, or in the case of my NaNo from last year, leave it on your hard drive for a couple of years until you're ready to face it again.

Last year was my first year. I learned about it sometime around November 5th or so, so I got a late start, yet I finished my 63k novel several days early...and that's not including the 3800 words I took out because they were too much of a diversion (I'm saving them for a sequel or short story). I'm not saying that to brag, but to tell you, you can do it! Even if you don't read this post until the 8th, you can do it...I'm here for you! There are all kinds of support groups...check (you'll want to sign up, anyway) and there's a forum for it on Sorry for no hyperlinks tonight, I just don't have the mental capacity for them!

29 minutes to go...wheee!!!!!!

Monday, October 27, 2008

How to get started freelancing, part six: how to write a query letter

At long last, I have gotten around to telling you how to write a query letter! Thank you for your patience. As I mentioned in my last post, the point of the query letter is basically to get the editor to give you a chance and read your piece. It is not hard to write a query letter, once you know how. Once you get it down, you can make kind of a template for yourself to write future ones. Just make sure you tailor it as much as possible to each recipient--editors like to feel special.

Here is a sample of a query letter I wrote that resulted in the editor requesting the article on spec. I'm removing any names so I don't like like too much of a doofus if he has a google alert. With my luck, he'll find it anyway and I'll still look like a doofus. What can I say...I'm a doofus, but I write pretty well so you should forgive me!

Here is an example of a query letter I sent recently. The editor bought the article, but I'm sure there's always room for improvement if anyone has a critique. In any case, I wanted to get a sample out here for those of you who don't know how to write one. I put some notes in brackets.

Hello Mr. [Editor's last name], [formal address to the correct person]

In the highly exacting sport of dressage, there are few riders who earn the elite honor of a USDF Gold Medal. Only a very small number of these riders earned their Gold Medal on an Arabian horse, and Patience Prine-Carr recently joined the ranks with multi-national champion OKW Entrigue +++//. [this is the hook]

Although this is a very impressive honor, few people in the Arabian horse industry truly understand just how rare and special the award is, if they have even heard of it. I would like to write an article that will educate your readers on what it takes to train a horse and rider to the Grand Prix level of dressage, and show that Arabian horses can do it! I expect the article to total between 1,000 and 1,500 words, and I can supply pictures and quotes from Patience. [why the need for this article and what I plan to do. anything you can add here to show why their magazine is the perfect fit would be good.]

I have been published in [magazine], [another magazine] and have a monthly feature in [yet another magazine]. I would be honored to be a part of [the magazine I'm querying] as well. I have writing samples available. [I can write, I swear! I can prove it! Some magazine submission guidelines will ask you to go ahead and send samples.]

If you would be interested in running this piece, my contact information is below. I look forward to hearing from you.

Jennifer Walker
[other contact info]

Saturday, October 25, 2008

How to get started freelancing, part five

All right, today we get into the good stuff: magazine work. This is where the real money is for most freelance writers. Most magazines pay anywhere from $.10 to $1 per word, which adds up pretty quick, especially on 1000+ word features. Many do not pay by the word but pay a set fee for different types of articles (300 word blurbs vs. 1500 word features, etc.), but it averages out to a great rate per word. There are magazines that do not pay, and they are generally easier to get into, which is a good way to get your first publishing credit.

Of course, the more the magazine pays, the more competition you have and the pickier you are. Your work needs to be very, very good--no errors, good structure, sources cited. Some national mags will not even consider you unless you have national credits to your name already. Lower paying mags have lower standards and are a good way to cut your teeth and get some experience.

Generally the way magazines work is, you send a query letter explaining what kind of article you want to write, why it's a good fit for their magazine and why you're qualified to write it. You may or may not include writing samples, depending on the submission guidelines. The magazine then decides whether they want to have you write the article "on spec" (speculation), and you write it and send it. If they like it, they buy it. You can also just go ahead and write the article and send it with your query, but you risk spending time writing articles that don't sell when you go this route--of course, you could keep shopping them around until you find a buyer, or stick it on Associated Content (see my post about online content sites).

Probably the most important piece of advice I can give you about writing for magazines is to find their website and locate their submission guidelines. Read them very carefully, and then read them again. Follow their instructions on how to submit to them to the letter, and then double check to make sure you did it right! This business is so competitive that many editors will not bother with writers who do not follow directions. Some magazines receive 100s of queries each day, so you want to stand out for good reasons, not bad!

Tomorrow I'll tell you how to write a query letter. If you have any questions about anything I've talked about, please ask and I'll do my best to answer!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

How to get started freelancing, part four

Today's subject: online bidding sites

Although online content sites are a good way to cut your teeth and get yourself in the writing mode, they pay very little. If you want to make a real career out of writing, you can do much better through other means of making money.

Bidding sites are a great way to find work. Someone who needs work done will post their job on the site, a bunch of people will place a "bid" on it, and the buyer will decide which service provider is best for the job. Some of these jobs are very low paying, aimed at workers in India and other places with a low cost of living. However, not everyone wants to hire the cheapest writer--they want the best writer they can get for their budget. This is often a person whose first language is English.

The two bidding sites I use are oDesk and Elance. I prefer oDesk at this point, because it costs me nothing. I get 20 bids per week, and the cost of the service is added on to my fee when the buyer is billed (in other words, if I bid $40, the buyer pays $44). Elance gives you only 3 "connects" per month for free, and high-paying jobs cost more than one connect. You can purchase more connects so you can bid on more jobs, and then Elance adds a service fee to your bid as well. I know I warned you yesterday about sites that charge money to get work, but this is different--you can see the available jobs before you pay anything, and there are so many jobs that it's worth it.

When you sign up for these sites, fill out your profile as completely as possible. Your first couple of jobs may need to be low-paying ones so you can build a reputation--buyers will give you feedback so future buyers will have more confidence in you. When you apply for jobs, write a cover letter that tells them why you're the person for the job--your experience, your knowledge of the work they need done, etc.

You can find all kinds of jobs on online bidding sites. Eventually, you may move away from using these services, but they are a good way to get started. Each time you finish a job, be sure to ask for more work. This has worked well for me with several jobs.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How to get started freelancing, part three

OK, you've learned how to write and you've practiced and feel comfortable doing it. The next step is to start selling what you write! There are different ways to go about this, so I'm going to break it up over a few posts. Today I'm going to focus on online content sites.

Online content sites are websites that are like big article warehouses. They pay you a pittance for putting your article on their site, and they earn money from the ad revenue. These sites include Associated Content (they pay a small up-front payment plus $1.50 per 1000 page view residuals), Helium (they only pay residuals on some mysterious formula related to the subject, page views and where you're ranked), Demand Studios (they pay $15 up front for article ideas they suggest and they just changed how much they pay for subjects you suggest so I don't know. No residuals), and Suite 101 (they pay a revenue share of the ad income, which is pretty good). There are others, like Textbroker, Triond and eHow, but I have only used the ones above.

There are other places to earn online; you just have to keep your eye out. is a place where you can write letters for people, and you get paid $10 for every letter you sell. I've sold a few there.

The big thing to look out for is that if they charge you money to sign up and get work, it's probably a scam. Many places that charge a subscription fee just to view job listings have very few listings, and what is there gets snapped up quickly. These places are likely to then bombard you with spam or sell your information to add insult to injury.

The forums at Associated Content and Accentuate Writers have some job listings you might find helpful.

Posts to look forward to: SEO work, bidding sites, magazine work, how to write a query letter

Monday, October 20, 2008

How to get started freelancing, part two

Now that you've decided you know how to write, the next step is pretty simple: start writing! Any successful writer will tell you that writers write, and if you want to be a writer, you need to write a lot. Writing a lot gives you practice so you get better, both at the mechanics of it and at coming up with ideas, feeling comfortable with doing it, and so on. Plus, if you're not writing anything, what will you sell?

Where to get ideas? All around you. Every interaction with every person you come across, every place you go, every television show or news broadcast can be a source of inspiration. In my case, I have a niche: horses. Having a niche helps me to narrow down my choices of what to write about, but I also dance (another niche), eat, don't have to confine yourself to a niche, but you might find it helpful to capitalize on one if you can.

Tomorrow I'll start talking about where to sell your writing.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

How to get started freelancing, part one

Although I have only been freelancing for a short time, I like to think I'm doing pretty well, and I'm very humbled to say that I have had several people tell me I've inspired them! It's really an amazing feeling to have people look up to me and ask me for advice for something this new to me. However, I must be doing something right, so I might as well embrace it!

I get a lot of requests for advice on how to get started freelancing, so I thought I'd do a mini series with my advice on how to do it. There are many different approaches and opinions, so I can only tell you what worked for me and the lessons I've learned. Some of them I've already shared, but I'll be a bit more pointed for the next few posts.

How to get started freelancing, part one: Learn How to Write

I can't stress this enough. I've harped on it before, and I'm going to harp on it again now. If you just want to write for your own enjoyment, it doesn't really matter how well you write--you should just write and get your thoughts on paper and enjoy it. However, if you want people to pay you for your work, you need to give them a product worth paying for. You probably wouldn't pay good money for an amateurish painting and put it on your wall, would you? The writing world is very competitive, and a publisher who has to choose between a poorly written piece and 100 well written ones is not going to go with the poor one just because "it's only fair" (or whatever other justification you can come up with).

Learn how to write. Get some textbooks, manuals or tutorials, read books, take a class. Get the basics down: spelling, grammar, punctuation, logical organization of the work. Read a lot of the type of thing you want to write--whether it's articles about horses, short stories or news items. Get a feel for how they are written and come up with your own style. Figure out what your weak points are and work on them.

Writing is a craft, not a task like flipping burgers. You must learn it well and hone it if you want to be successful.

Now that I've admonished you sufficiently, I'll start talking about how to get work tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Do you have a nose for news?

So, I recently started writing for (see today's piece at with more likely to follow). I think I mentioned this in a previous post--I sent a letter of introduction to them to offer my services, and they gave me a shot.

This is a departure for me, because is a news site, focusing on horse health. I've done a little on horse health before and it's a subject I enjoy writing about, but I've never really done news before. I have to sniff out my own stories and write them in a journalistic style, packing as much info into 300 words as possible. It's actually quite a rush! The hardest part is getting a feel for what news is, vs. a feature, and finding the stories. Once I find the topic and get the research done (using only reliable sources), the writing is actually pretty easy. I'm looking forward to learning a lot about this style of work and writing more for them--the editor, Erin Ryder, is extraordinarily helpful and patient. Thanks, Erin!

Don't be afraid to expand your writing horizons. The more flexible you are in the type of assignments you take on, the more money you can make. Different people have different ways of approaching a new type of assignment. Some people will tell you to act like your an expert whether you are one or not and learn fast so you can do a good job. While I agree with the last part of that sentence, I have a hard time not being completely truthful. I was honest with and told them I have little experience with news but am willing to learn and do the best I can, and they took a chance on me. I did the same with LEG when I applied to write press releases for them--I told them I'd only written a couple before and gave samples, and they hired me. I think as long as you show you can write, most places will be willing to give you a shot. Just make sure you learn fast and incorporate every suggestion they give you!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Time to Brainstorm!

How often do you brainstorm story ideas? I only do it when someone tells me to, which is silly. However, it is a fantastic exercise! I do best when someone says "give me titles/ideas for such-and such topics." This has happened twice now, and I came up with so many ideas! However, not all of them were fits for the magazine that requested them. So, what to do with these leftover ideas? Forget them. Toss them out. They're useless, right? Wrong! Why not take the ideas that magazine rejected and sell them somewhere else? Surely someone will want them.

I put my new-found tactic to the test yesterday. I pitched some ideas to one place, but that place only wants news and a lot of them were really features. So, I sent them to another magazine I work for regularly and asked if they want them. I haven't heard back yet, but I have tons more places to send them if this one doesn't want them.

One more sign I'm growing as a writer!

Friday, October 10, 2008


Today I got a special package in the mail. The Ultimate Horse Lover, the very first book to contain my name! Looks like a great read. I'm on page 161. They changed the title to "We're Just Here to Look," but I forgive them.

I don't know if I'll ever get over that cool feeling of seeing something in print with "by Jennifer Walker" at the top of it (er, or at the end, as the case may be). Maybe I'll get all jaded eventually, but I still have to look for every issue of every magazine and dig through the table of contents until I find it.

Of course, there will be more books with my name in them! For example, the Accentuate Writers Short Story Contest Anthology will contain at least two of my works and will be out early next year. And, I'm still sending out queries for Bubba Goes National.

To infinity, and beyond!

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Ultimate Horse Lover is now available!

My humorous true story, "We're Just Going to Look" can be read in The Ultimate Horse Lover, now available from HCI books. Purchase it and their other books at: HCI Books New Releases

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Don't be shy!

I've mentioned before how valuable networking can be for getting work. Last week I was at Arabian Sport Horse Nationals. When my coach and I were breaking down, two ladies came over to talk to her (she's a very prominent figure in the sport). They mentioned something about having a bunch of stories and photos, and they just need to decide which ones to do, so it became evident they were from a magazine. I asked them which one, and they named one of the major Arabian Horse magazines. I happened to have some of my business cards with me, so I pulled them out and introduced myself and offered my services. They promised to check out my website and gave me their card so I could send them some samples and said they hadn't picked a writer yet and it was a definite plus I had been there. If this works out, I'll have an in with them, which is major!

I also sent a letter of introduction to Their news editor asked me to send her some pitches, which I did, she selected one and I wrote it. You can read it here. It never hurts to put yourself out there, but it sure can help!