Becoming a Real Writer: Pitching

No matter what kind of stuff you like to write, odds are there is someone out there who will pay you for it (if it’s good enough). Straight news? There’s absolutely a market for that. Political commentary? Yep. Science writing? It’s been one of the shrinking markets the last few years, but as a freelancer, sure, you can still find outlets. Comedy writing, yeah. Features? Definitely.

Of course, you have to find your market. You can do some research and write an article on gardening and sell it, even if you’ve never even kept a houseplant alive, but the closer you stick with what you know, the more likely you are to earn a paycheque that justifies the time you put into it. Not to mention, you know, caring about what you’re writing.

I have a little notebook file with article pitches. I’m looking at science and science fiction magazines that buy non-fiction articles, so I can write about, well, both science and science fiction. I’m looking at education journals, because I have a few articles in mind for that as well. And I’m also looking at a couple of writers’ magazines.

Sometimes you have to write the whole article and then see who wants to buy it. Sometimes they just want your basic idea for the article, and they’ll let you know if you should write it. Of course, it’s often much better to know who you want to write for beforehand, so you can keep publication style guidelines — and more importantly, your audience — in mind during the writing.

Even a news article will have a different focus if it’s addressed to a specific audience, say in a trade journal, compared to a general audience. An article on the employment crisis in education will be very different if it’s written for a magazine that circulates to teachers compared to one read by the general public.

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You may have been doing a particular kind of writing “for the love” for years, without even realizing someone might be willing to pay you for it. Some time after I realized I didn’t need to depend on my editors to get me books anymore, I realized I also am capable of getting paid for my book reviews. Maybe not much. Maybe only between twenty and fifty dollars per review, but if I’m reading the books anyway (and already reviewing them so that publishers will provide me free copies), why not get a little pocket change out of the deal?

Back in the summer I was named the writer of the week on the Blogcritics site. Here’s the quote:

With Comic-Con over, it’s time to appreciate the excellent writerly skills of J.J.S. Boyce, who’s written a couple of dozen crystal-clear pieces for Blogcritics on books, movies, and games, many (but not all) centered on science fiction. All you sci-fi fans out there, and anyone who appreciates good critical writing, zip on over to J.J.S. Boyce’s writer page for a sampling of some of the best he, and Blogcritics, has to offer our readers.

So, okay, great. It’s nice to be appreciated. There are almost 1, 000 active writers on the site, which has been in operation for a few years. It’s called “writer of the week” so only about 50 win each year (actually a bit less since some “weeks” stretch to 14 days). I started writing a little before last Christmas, and, as mentioned, I’ve done 20-odd reviews on the site.

There are writers with hundreds upon hundreds of reviews who I’ve seen named “writer of the week” in the months since I was so named, and no doubt there are many more still waiting for their moment in the sun. Most will never get it. I don’t have as much seniority nor am I nearly as prolific as most other recognized writers. So why me?

Because the writing on the site can be spotty. Some writers are great but there are plenty of amateurs. Almost every article I write becomes an editor’s pick, and close to half end up being picked up by other publications that purchase content from Technorati Media (the umbrella under which Blogcritics falls). So a lot of my stuff is being sold, but I’m not getting paid for it.

That’s no one’s fault but my own. I didn’t bother to search out markets because it hadn’t occurred to me. But if anything I write is making money, probably some of that money should go to me. Similarly, if you’ve been writing a regular unpaid comedy column that’s getting major hits for a web site, or you’ve developed a decent following covering medical news for a community newspaper, maybe you ought to consider who else might be interested in publishing your stuff.

But, of course, you have to get ready to pitch it. No one’s going to do it for you. It’s tempting to be a big fish in a small pond, but if you want the satisfaction of breaking into tougher markets, you have to be pro-active about it. As my high school English teacher always said, “Get out there and sell yourself!”

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