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Friday, August 29, 2008

Killer Campaigns: Articles

As some of you know, I started out writing nonfiction. It was a complete fluke. My very first writing gig was for the company I worked for. They started a department newsletter and I was asked to contribute.

To this day, I have no idea why I was asked. It's not like I demonstrated any skill in article writing. Maybe the editor gleaned all this from my very "creative" emails. :o)

My second introduction to nonfiction took me outside the warm fuzzy of the office and into the cold cruel world of real publishing. I wrote a letter to the editor of a country living magazine. I complimented his magazine because I thought it was really well done and informative. In the letter I had mentioned raising rheas, South American ratites.

Well, one thing led to another and before I knew it, the editor called me on the phone and asked me more about the big birds. Before our conversation ended, he asked if I would be willing to write an article about my experience.

Again, did he glean I had any talent from a measly letter? It's possible, I suppose. Two instances back to back with nothing to corroborate skill couldn't be sheer coincidence. But I was beginning to get the feeling Fate was pushing me into writing.

Nonfiction is a lot different than fiction. In the first place, you have to get to the point. Readers do not allow you the luxury of waxing poetically.

Queries for nonfiction are a little bit different too. Generally, my nonfiction queries focus on my direct experience with the subject. And before you think you don’t have the expertise, think again.

There are loads of magazines, ezines, and even article banks that are hungry for articles about child rearing, traveling, cooking, saving, educating, and decorating—all the things you probably do now. Start with topics you know well. Chances are good you'll find a publication that could use a fresh voice.

Like short stories, money for articles isn't paramount. The purpose is to circulate your name and get a byline. Note: I always query paying markets first because, ya know, I'm a Capitalist Pig first.

I have my reservations about article banks. I don't know enough about them to make an informed statement, but these banks are so crowded I don't know what your chances are for being noticed. Unless you write about something really outrageous, you could languish in a black hole.

Places like Free Sticky, Go Articles, or Helium are always on the prowl for articles. They rarely pay or they pay token amounts. But if it's an article you haven't been able to sell elsewhere, article banks might be a good alternative. Just be aware of what you're getting into. Read the fine print.

The other drawback to article writing for any publication is that your byline might not draw the audience you need. For example, if you write YA fiction, but your article is about banking, your target audience isn't likely to read this article. I would list your YA credit anyway because some caring parent might decide to look you up. Just don't be discouraged if the article didn't give you a lot of mileage.

Writing articles is my guilty pleasure. I LOVE doing 'em. They are fast, easy, the pay per word is better than fiction and I really do enjoy learning more about a subject. But now there is even more reason to write them. It's a great way to spread your name around.

Here are some tips for article writing.

• Query letters: Keep it short. State your credentials clearly and lead with a spiffy tagline. You want to grab the editor's attention immediately.

• Look for venues with wide distribution.

• Make a list of suitable topics, then make a list of potential markets.

• Write your byline. You can always tweak it for specific markets, but having a generic byline will get you started. Remember that you are rarely given more than 100 words, and often much less, so make every word count. See my article on writing bios here.

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Carol Burge said...

Hi Maria,

I know you posted this way back in August, but I wanted to comment anyway.

I've been seriously thinking about doing some article writing for extra $. These days every little bit helps. :) The thing is, I don't know where to start or who to query. Would you mind if I emailed with Q's if I need to? I'd really appreciate it. I honestly don't know the first thing about writing articles (although I have been reading up on it). :)

Oh, by the way, great post. I sent a copy of it to myself. :)