My perfect, part-time job with Dionysus Theatre wound to a close just before Christmas, so I’m back on the market as a job hunter / freelance writer.
Nearing March 23, my 2-year anniversary since being laid off from the Houston Chronicle after losses of revenue and advertising, I’ve managed to do nearly everything wrong in establishing myself in the latter category of writing stories that might lead to a freelance career.
Even with the help of my most noble friend, a freelance photographer whose site is linked on this page, I have gone about this freelance business — as, in fact, a real work-from-home business — badly, with the exception of getting on WordPress (also his idea), which I shall REALLY begin to update more often. As God (or Whatever) is my witness, I shall NEVER go wordless again.
Here’s my 21-Gun Salute to Death by Pen:
1) Put off writing anything until you have a workable outline in the hope that your time would be better employed through pursuing REAL employment. And there is always “must see TV.”
2) Rely solely on former coworkers and friends at newspapers or magazines or internet sites to call you with an assignment.
3) Do not investigate markets (print, online, smoke signals) to see what types of news, feature, special-interest, micro-special interest are contracting with freelance writers in your town, state, region, nation, world.
4) Spend no time contemplating areas in which you have some degree of experience or interest.
5) Do not consider scope. This is limiting. You have every right to start with “The Origin of Navel Lint”and expand it to include “The Companion Guide to the History of the World.”
6) Question the wisdom of spending the money to buy a guide, such as Writers Digest, or any current-year publication bearing on how to get your news, features, nonfiction or fiction stories, books or e-books published.
7) Do NOT use a highlighter and-or bookmarks to note the markets that match the faves on your subject list of expertise and interest. Librarians and parents have warned you not to deface books. You stand doubly warned.
8) Shun bookstores with racks containing local to international magazine racks and newspapers and study ones that match your “I’d like to write about…..” list.
9) Completely ignore the web addresses and names of contact editors and guidelines for submissions, or checking back issues to see if the publication has printed something similar in the past few years.
10) If other writers have written on your subject, consider it taboo and scrub the idea entirely. Do not alter or repackage it for that or other publications. If you find a story on “tree” and your subject is “acorn,” drop all landscaping/gardening/wildlife story ideas from your list immediately.
11) Do not bother honing and expanding your list of subjects in which you have knowledge and-or interest (from expert level to merely curious) while continuing to research the top four or five on the list and matching them to previously overlooked or emerging online/print publications that will actually pay you for your efforts.
12) Send your story idea to “To Whom it May Concern” without learning how to write a query letter addressed to a specific editor with an idea tailored to that particular publication.
13) Never edit your prose. Send query letters in stream-of-consciousness mode. If you get the nod to pursue the article, do not bother to check things as mundane as spelling or pertinent facts, as your time is valuable and you have other research, query letters and articles to pursue.
13-A) Avoid subplots or sub-topcs. This will only confuse people.
14) Do not sign on to forums or join networking groups with other freelancers. They are your competitors and you wouldn’t want anyone to think you were stealing the ideas of others. Or worse, expose your ideas to potential intellectual product thieves.
15) Join one of the many “hub” sites for writers that offer you the chance to receive royalties (starting with 1-cent per word) for the rest of your life, depending on how many tens of thousand “hits” your article receives on the www. These companies are out to assist talent by teaching you how to douse your articles with “key” words that attract the attention of both readers and advertisers.
16) Stay within the box. Use cliches, bromides, colloquialisms with impunity to create articles that impart a sense of camaraderie with readers of all intelligence levels, including that of plant life.
17) Stay secure in the knowledge that scope and the task of staying on topic are limiting to the creative process. Ignore them. Start your article off with a small subject — “The origins of Navel Lint” — and expanding it into the “Companion Guide to the History of the World.” Or the other way around.
18) By all means, inject your beliefs, philosophies, mention of your achievements, opinions of those who disagree with your opinions, whenever possible. You have the right to write — and to right the world through writing. Everyone is intensely interested in what you think. This is the the kind of dog-fight-dog mud-slinging people will buy, tune in for, pick as a favorite post or — better yet — rally behind. Plus, you’ll get extra points in Heaven.
19) Defend your work when hit with suggestions or criticism of any form from editors. Letters of rejection should be immediately followed with your letter to that editor in which you explain how wrong-headed, imbecilic and moronic he/she is. Explore with him/her how the loss of your article is the death knell for that publication.
20) Never save your work once a story is published, and do not use an idea for a story more than once. No one else but the publication that bought the story is interested in a revision or additional material re-tailored to fit another market.
21) Do not make lists.