Since the last post I've spent quite a long time finding and reading a number of books about how to write or more precisely to sell non-fiction. Unfortunately this has made for some depressing reading. There appears to be no substitute for in-depth research of potential publications. Getting hold of those that seemed promising for my current list of possible themes - retirement, relationships, education and training - has not proved straightforward. Even when I have succeeded I've found it impossible to identify which articles/slots are written by freelancers and which by staff. And I've not even attempted the sort of detailed analysis wihch you're supposed to carry out (number of words, number of words per sentence etc.) Have also found it impossible to locate the short 'think pieces' in specific magazines which an article I read in 'The Writing Magazine' definitely says are there. As for phoning up editors to ask if they are currently commissioning work and launching into this with 'I am a freelance journalist', I've had only one bash at this. I was so taken aback when I got straight through to an editor and so nervous that I didn't even give the poor guy time to say 'hello' back before putting my question. When he said 'No, we don't have a budget for proper paid journalism (apart from two 'regulars')' I thought afterwards that I should have offered to write something for free in order to get a cutting. I can hardly ring him back again to offer this now. (Would be freelance writers face a neat Catch 22 - you can't get published without cuttings of published writing and where are these going to come from if you can't get published....)
The other thing I've done is send an 'ideas' letter to a language magazine. Will be very lucky to get a reply, especially as I have not been able to get hold of the journal itself which, according to all the books, is an absolute prerequisite for getting 'pitches' accepted. (See, at least I've learnt the language.) Anyway the articles are those that I've already written so at least I haven't wasted too much time (although it took me for ever to write the three para e-mail.)
So where do I go from here? Would love to send off my retirement article but still haven't identified a suitable publication. I could also develop a few pitches without too much work as do have lots of ideas but am not optimistic about the chances of success - again unless I am clear about the targets. One of the books pointed out that most would be writers imagine initially that they're going to just sit at their desks and write whereas most articles involve going out and about doing research, interviews, case-studies etc. That was me - imagining I could just rattle off something witty and entertaining off the top of my head. But the market for that sort of writing is far too competitive. So do I want to do the 'out and about' journalism? I remember as a young woman thinking that although I could write I wasn't cut out for journalism because I wasn't pushy and confident enough. That conclusion still holds. As far as writing about education and training is concerned, already I feel a bit removed from all of this but perhaps if I make progress with voluntary work in this field that would give me a basis from which to write.
So next steps then? Back to Sheffield reference library to go systematically through back copies of specific magazines (assuming that they keep them) in order to do that essential detailed analysis of the market. Send your unsolicited MS/pitches off.
If this doesn't work or I get stuck then it seeems to me there are two options:
- Do some more writing for free. Maybe I'm still stuck on this idea that nothing is really worthwhile unless you get paid for it whereas the most important thing is surely to be read and to influence, inform or entertain. Doing some more would also perhaps enable me to clarify what I want to write and why. Could have a go at writing letters or in the comment section of the Guardian, for example, as well as more on http://www.hubpages.com/
- Think about doing a writing course. The problem with this is that you may be buying 'a pig in a poke'. Also one of the women at the creative writing class last year was doing a course with the Writer's Bureau, I think, and she said it was very hard work. (You have to do the market research and identify your own targets just as I've described above. On the other hand, since starting the writing course she had already had one article published in a local magazine.