Diary of a freelance writer, 9 September 2016

On our way up Kinder Scout (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

How did your homework go last week? Did you find any anniversaries or local events that tickled your fancy? I had quite a good week, very busy but good. It should be easier from here on in.

I launched the new diary of a freelance writer and I checked an online dictionary of dates. And I came up with a good half-dozen potential ideas and topics, adding them all to my new spreadsheet in date order.

Today I moved on to my old faithful but very ancient dictionary of dates and added a few more anniversaries to my list. Then I checked my dictionary of feasts and seasons, and then I nipped online again to see what events are already booked in locally, both to visit in September and to think about for next April. There weren’t many up for next year yet, but I did add quite a few more to my spreadsheet.

On Friday I went through my spreadsheet and decided which of my ideas tickled me enough to find out more. I booked in our first research day for Saturday.

Saturday was quite busy but we managed to squeeze the research trip in between everything else. We had a nice afternoon soaking up the atmosphere in Haworth and taking pictures, noting things we either wanted to come back for or how an article could be slanted.

Sunday was mostly thinking time for me – percolation.

Today I chose 4 broad topics and tried to come up with at least 3 slants for each, to maximise potential. In fact, for 3 of them, I came up with 4 slants, and only one came out at 3 slants. I also selected a handful of throwaways to share as a semi-worked example here today.

Yesterday was market study. I identified a good selection of magazines that might be interested in the kind of things I’m interested in writing about. I came up with 5 regulars that I could slant pretty much most things towards, and about the same again as one-offs.

When I bought a Writer’s Market in 2011, it came with a free 12-month online-subscription to the massive database and various writers’ tools that go with it. But I’d never activated it. So yesterday, I dug out the code, and I activated it. This is basically going to give me the next 12 months to sell probably just one item that will cover the online subscription next year. For now I’ve selected just one well-paying magazine.

It’s harder work writing for the American magazines. They like to see proper, fleshed-out queries, and their researchers will check, check and check again almost every fact you hint at in your article. But they issue proper contracts too, and they pay proper wages. So I like to think the extra work is worth it.

As I was studying each of the magazines, it occurred to me that one of them might also be interested in an “evergreen” article. An evergreen is an article that doesn’t have a topical peg to hang on but is still interesting all the same. It might be something you can write about from your own experience or existing knowledge, or something you can research and write very quickly. The trouble with an evergreen is that even if a market accepts it, they may hold onto it until a suitable slot comes up – usually unexpected, usually due to someone else letting them down with a topical. This is fine if the market pays on acceptance, but if they pay on publication (or, horror of horrors and to be avoided at all costs, the end of the month following publication), then you risk waiting months, sometimes years for your wages. Evergreens are useful to have on the backburner, but often better submitted to magazines who still accept submissions on spec, rather than commissioned or requested, and who use their stock quite quickly.

Then I drafted 9 queries targeted towards 3 magazines. By the middle of the afternoon, I’d already received a reply from one of the magazines, and it wasn’t a reject.

Now those queries are done and out of the way, I can sit back and (hopefully) wait for them to come back to me. Meanwhile, for now, the rest of the month can be spent on actual, real-life writing.

I came up with several anniversaries or topics that either didn’t excite me or I didn’t think I could do them justice. So here are some of the ones I tossed away, and some suggestions of what could be done with them:

  1. 4 April 1991, 25 years ago, the children at the centre of satanic abuse allegations in the Orkney Islands off Scotland are reunited with their families after the case was thrown out of court.
    1. This screams out for a short story, a serial, a novella or a novel. Remember to mention the topicality if submitting a story or serial to a magazine.
    2. What other instances have children been separated from their families only to be reunited due to lack or fabrication of evidence? Can anyone be interviewed and photographed?
  2.  18 April 1956, 60 years ago, the British chancellor, Harold Macmillan, unveils plans for a new state savings scheme, offering cash prizes instead of interest.
    1. Have you ever won anything on your premium bonds? Write a reader’s letter to a finance magazine, or a general interest magazine, sharing this information.
    2. The chancellor wanted to encourage the nation to save. Over the years, returns (aka “prizes”) have been slashed over and over again. Are they worth it? What can you win? Often nothing? This would make a finance feature.
  3.  23 April 2001, 15 years ago, a former personal assistant to the Duchess of York stands accused of murdering her boyfriend.
    1. Again, this screams out for a short story, a serial, a novella or a novel. Remember to mention the topicality if submitting a story or serial to a magazine.
  4. Various dates over Easter 1916, 100 years ago, the Easter Rising took place, in Ireland. As it happens, the anniversary can be pegged onto Easter (which is March next year) or April (when Easter fell in 1916 – I’d be inclined to use this one).
    1. The political savvy can go to town on this one with various features and articles.
    2. It also allows for a work of fiction to be set against it – and has. Remember to mention the topicality if submitting a story or serial to a magazine.
  5. Other stories for April:
    1. 1 April is All Fools Day … apart from in Orkney, when it’s 2 April and tricks should be played after noon instead of before noon.
    2. 1 April is also Gowking Day. (Look it up.) What stories or articles (or poems) can you write about Gowking Day?
    3. 1 April is apparently a good day for thunder. (Look it up.)
    4. 5 April 1976, 40 years ago, Jim Callaghan is voted leader of the labour party, beating Michael Foot, takes over from Harold Wilson, and moves into no 10. What other politicians have won the prime ministership in this way? (And who have refused to give it up?) Can this contest be compared to another, very recent, very similar contest? (For which the results will be out very soon.)
    5. 8 April 1986, 30 years ago, Clint Eastwood is voted in as mayor of Carmel. This could be a feature on other actors/entertainers who have gone into politics.
    6. 18 April 1956, 60 years ago, Prince Rainier III of Monaco married Grace Kelly.

So, your homework for this week is this:

  • choose at least 3 of the topics you came up with yourself, or choose 3 from the above, or a mix of both
  • identify at least 3 slants for each topic or anniversary
  • identify at least 3 magazines you can target with at least 3 article queries
  • from your market study, identify at least 1 market that may be interested in an evergreen
  • if you have them, select at least 3 pdfs or jpgs of cuttings, or samples if you’re still submitting via hard copy – if you can choose cuttings that are appropriate to the current ideas you’re querying, all the better
  • carefully draft your queries, and send them, ensuring you have the most up to date contact details (for which a quick phone call will do)
  • let us know how you get on

(Do those count as lists? 😉 )


2 thoughts on “Diary of a freelance writer, 9 September 2016

  1. More than lists! 🙂 I’m not sure this is a blog so much as a very worthwhile workshop. Very generous of you on all accounts, sharing and teaching! Me? My life at the moment revolves around grandkids and clocks. Hey ho it can only improve….soon, please soon.


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