A beginning writer bitches about the publishing industry

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The following article is written by an angry beginning writer who is bitching about the publishing industry. The writer wishes to become a highly paid freelancer. What would you advise this writer?

I just finished reading “Why freelance writers agree to work for almost no money,” and I couldn’t help but think, “Hey that’s me!”

The problem is that things aren’t really any better outside the web world.  I got front-page headline on an investigate (sic) report (900 word story)on home invasions (The ____ Record–location deleted) and the best they could offer me was 35$!

They claimed that the paper almost folded several times, readership is down, advertisement is not covering costs and they regularly pay their writers 25$ a story so I should be happy with what I got.  UGhhhhh!  Does that make sense or am I being taken for a ride?

I’m new to journalism (though I have been writing–yes, for free–for (website name deleted) for over a year now and have spent years working on novels/poetry/short stories of my own.

Also, I’ve recently had some fantastic scoops (and subsequent interviews) from within the music biz…and still I can barely get anyone to even look at my articles let alone buy them. I’m talking artists that played at The Newport Folk Fest, have their songs featured on t.v. episodes of well-watched programs–not my cousin’s garage band.

The hardest part is finding contact info, many music sites have a generic contact form that doesn’t allow you to reach a specific editor or attach any documents…how are you supposed to hook in the person with a simple pitch? I find you can’t fully appreciate that something is newsworthy unless you read it first…a pitch is just not enough to get past editors biases against the artist or the writer they’ve never heard of…

Also, many places don’t even give you an answer, they just don’t respond.  Is that proper in the business?  Is there no etiquette?

What kind of animals are we dealing with where a simple “No thanks, we’ll pass on the story,” is too much to ask?

Is it improper to write back with a request for a response or does that just make you look more desperate?

Are there “rules” and if so, what are they? I’m green, plain and simple, but very willing to work hard at learning the ropes.

Any words of advice to offer me on any of the issues I brought up?

Ok, readers – do you have advice? Do you concur? Do you disagree?

Here’s my response

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16 Responses to “A beginning writer bitches about the publishing industry”

  1. A question was asked in LI about this article and I was asked to post my reply here so this is what I am doing.

    That is an angry writer allright and using some of the expressions on that article will definitly not make him/ her any more friends like”What kind of animals”
    I am not sure how long this person has been writing, but anything or any business takes time to fly- no matter how good the person is, writing well or writing good articles is not really extraordinary anymore
    Everyday there are thousand of bloggers start their blogs and some of them are very good
    Newspapers are struggling to survive and some are folding
    All the news are published for FREE on the internet so to pay for articles is somehow sticky
    Unless the writer establish themselves as a leader inwhat they do by writing a lot and a lot of very good entertaining contents and nit just rant, by linking to authoritative figures in writing
    By developping their skills, by creating their own followers they will not make it
    It takes very hard work, dedication, commtiment and most of all a lot of patience and thick skin
    My 2 cents
    Sahar Andrade

  2. The outraged writer makes one point with which I’m in sympathy — the frequent silence at the other end of a submission or pitch. When I offer something to an editor, I am holding it back from other editors. But for how long? Once topical material is no longer topical, it’s dead. Without responses from editors (or sub-editors or support staff), freelancers can only guess about what to do next. To say “that’s just the way it is” does not satisfy. There is a real problem here that’s needs attention.

  3. Hey, it’s a tough freelance world out there. Newspapers are hurting, and excellent journalists are getting their walking papers every day. So, Beginning Writer is competing with them for jobs (and they have better credentials and contacts). And magazines are INUNDATED by excellent queries every day…Beginning Writer needs to learn a little something something about pitching his ideas.

    Beginning Writer may not have what it takes to become an Experienced Writer. But he’ll never know if he doesn’t really commit. He can start by researching professional classes, books, and organizations in the business. And in the words of a Master (I think it was Yoda), “Do or do not. There is no try.”

  4. Cathy – I really enjoyed your comment – especially “Do or do not…”
    thanks for reading!
    –mkp

  5. That is a point extremely well taken and the bane of any writer’s existence. Thanks for your input!

    -mkp

  6. That’s a great point, and every writer can empathize and understand the silent reaction syndrome!

    –mkp

  7. Yes, Beginning Writer, Cathy’s got it right. Freelancing or any other form of editorial work is tough, tougher than ever with the travails of print media, and the tougher it gets the better you have to be to get noticed. You feel entitled to a response to your proposals however worthy editors consider them. Some could have better manners perhaps, and some could be quicker to spot the needle of brilliance in the haystack of submissions they get. But in the end, good, serious writers break through. They start small. They take the $35 for a piece if that’s all they can get because it’s a foot in the door and a clip to show around. Barring that, they take nothing but the psychic income they evidently get from appearing on a blog, say, or the Huffington Post. If you’re smitten by the joys of writing, you’ll find some other work to sustain you while you write.

  8. Most experienced writers faced – and continue to face – many of the frustrations you’ve encountered. But perhaps Beginning Writer is also part Lazy Writer. Many publications don’t include contact information for specific editors, probably to prevent a glut of messages from readers. It also tests freelancers’ ambition and creativity.

    What other ways might you track down an editor’s contact information?

    Going that extra mile will likely impress editors since the same skills are useful in tracking down potential sources. It’s the same basic procedure. If it’s a magazine, check the masthead of a recent issue and you’ll find more editors than you need. Or track down a phone number and speak to a receptionist. If you can’t get an e-mail address for them, try good, old-fashioned snail mail (some editors actually prefer initial contact by regular mail). It’s easier than you might imagine.

  9. I think this writer needs to take a step back and remember that writing for money, especially freelance writing, is first and foremost a business.

    It does not matter a writer produces the most brilliant piece on the hottest band on the planet. If there is not room in the issue or if the editors don’t think the piece will bring in readers or they already have too many pieces on that band or they want to feature another band, they simply will not use the piece. I was the managing editor for a small health care related journal and I could barely keep up with the unsolicited manuscripts I got. And we never paid our writers.

    When you are a freelance writer, you cannot take anything personally. You need to keep your ego out of it. If you write a piece and the client says, “Nope, I want it in Pig Latin” you either write it in Pig Latin or you say, “Sorry, I cannot in good faith do that” and walk away.

    A bit of advice for this writer:

    Everyone needs to pitch. If you can not create a brief compelling argument for why THIS article about THIS band should interest an editor, they will buy an article from someone who can.

    No one replies anymore. If you listen to anyone applying for a job (and that’s what you are doing, over and over again) they have the same complaint. Can you contact them requesting a response. Sure. Should you? Why bother? Why risk ticking them off?

    Finally, make sure your grammar, spelling and style are in top shape. When you are a writer, every email, posting, letter home, shopping list is a business card.

    A lot of new/young writers seem to have a sense of entitlement. It is a hard, hard thing to do for a living. Most people who make money at it do not write articles on the arts. They write web copy for plumbers. They may work on a novel at night, but during the day they sell sewer snakes. If you want to write arty articles for music blogs, do so on your own time and do something else to make money. If you want to make money writing, get ready to write whatever the client needs.

  10. I too found this posted on LinkedIn.

    There’s quite a bit going on here. I concur with Cathy and the others.

    That said, I’m wondering how well the writer is using common and very, very good resources for material. Writer’s Market specifies who, what, when, and how to submit pieces, often with quality guidelines or info on how to get them. I wonder how the writer is doing at assembling a portfolio of clips and presenting them. I wonder about participation in local writing conferences, where often a friendly editor will tell you frankly where you stand and how to improve your standing. I know I’ve benefited from that. I wonder about whether the writer is competing, because sometimes an award gets notice. That’s worked for me, too.

    Good writing is a joy, to do or to read. The fact that there’s a lot of writing on blogs does not prove that the writing is good. MS-WORD didn’t make people writers, it made them sloppy typists. The blogosphere is a giant vanity press, and careful writing has to be accompanied by careful marketing if you’re going to make it as a freelancer and have your work seen.

    I do notice a basic lack of business savvy on the writer’s part. Time pressure is intense on editors, the risks for making a mistake on a book or article selection are very high, and no one is entitled to an editor’s attention, or entitled to expect feedback. In slower days, that could happen. I don’t see it happening now. Etiquette is more important than ever, but the rules of etiquette have changed. Displays of selfish bad temper in public compromise your own civility. If you can write the phrase “what kind of animals” when talking about people you hope to be doing business with, the etiquette problem is sitting between your chair and your keyboard.

    Writing has always been poorly paid–yes, of course there is Danielle Steele, of course there is Dean Koontz, but even they had to work for their breaks.

    Start with Writer’s Market. Let go of what you think past success has entitled you to. And keep writing. Daily.

    best,

    susan

  11. The comments include many cogent points, most of which I agree with. However, I concur with the original poster that there is no excuse for the complete absence of a reply — especially in this age of rapid, easy communication by e-mail. In most cases I won’t bother to submit to a market whose guidelines say something like, “If you don’t hear from us in X amount of time, we’re not interested.” Under that set-up, how can one be sure the submission even got there?

  12. I’ve been a professional writer for over 30 years and writers often fail to recognize that they are basically in a sales position (assuming they are not working with an agent.)Once you recognize that this is a business, and not an exercise in ego stroking, one can understand a couple of key facts.

    Fact: Just because you think you are good doesn’t make it so.

    Fact: Even if you are good doesn’t make the story right for the publication to which you are pitching.

    Fact: Etiquette goes out the window when you are submitting unsolicited material for sale. In the business sectors outside of writing its called junk mail and it is neither wanted nor welcome. No response should be the expected norm.

    Fact: Your style may not fit the editor’s current vision or business plan.

    Fact: We are seeing more and more writers hanging out their shingles. Competition + shrinking demand = less work/pay.

    Fact: This is a business. If the publication can’t make money from your work, why would it risk running it?

  13. Thanks, Phil, for the spot-on comment. Reality is harsh, but true. The business aspect of writing is something many, many writers either overlook or are untrained to attend to. I agree with you – it isn’t about how cool we are, or how much star quality we have, or what we deserve. It’s about supply and demand – and the customer is the decision maker. Sadly, writing for periodicals is becoming the Walmart of the publishing business. Lots of lower quality goods for sale to the end-user at cheap prices.

    Looking forward to hearing your voice again. If you’d like to consider guest posting, let us know.

    mkp

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