Thursday, December 27, 2012

Why I Ponder the 4th of July on the Last Week of December

We have a light snowy dusting among the grass blades and a roaring fire on this blustery December day.

But I'm not thinking about the hot chocolate or the mittens and boots ...

.... I'm contemplating fireworks safety, best ways to quench a dying thirst on a humid summer's day and Fourth of July cookout recipes.


Well, because in the world of freelance writing, you never live in the present when it comes to pitching ideas. Magazines are on an entirely different schedule than the rest of the world. While you're sipping egg nog in the muted light of a Christmas tree, your potential editors are already thinking ahead to the layout for the St. Patrick's Day issue -- maybe even planning for Passover or Easter spreads, too.

That's why, to stay ahead of your competition, you need to think even further ahead than that.

This doesn't just apply to stories about recipes and crafts. Spin it out and think outside the box. In October, I was thinking about tax planning stories for my Realtor magazines. In December, I think about pieces for the summer tourist season for magazines that reach small business owners in resort areas. In January, I move to pitching ideas on successful job hunting for magazines that college graduates will be reading in June. By April, I'm churning back-to-school coping stories for my military magazines, because their families may have moved to a new geographic location, and they need help adjusting.

As you can see, to beat your competition and always guarantee an assignment, you don't focus on the obvious, like pitching a story in May on the best ways to set a Thanksgiving table. (Although, hey! That's a good idea, too!) You can always send those ideas, but unless you're a regular contributor to that publication, chances are they've already been assigned to one of the writers with which the editors are already familiar.

Don't sit around and complain that competition is too stiff, or the economy is bad, or that your queries keep hitting the slush pile. Just think ahead .... by about five to six months .... and then think outside the box.

Plan your July work this week, and in July, get back to me about how much money you're making.

Monday, December 3, 2012

End of Year Pitches

December: The month when we all stop for a full week to hit holiday parties and exchange gifts and eat lots and lots of cookies .....

Or do we?

If you're trying to run a freelance writing business, this month is your prime opportunity to line up work for the coming year so that you're not scrambling month to month.

Don't know where to start? That's okay, I'm here to help. Here's what I do:

1) Make a list of all of your current clients. Check out their calendars for the coming year and for any themes that will be prevalent in each monthly issue. Contact them and find out if they will entertain a list of story ideas from you.

2) When you hear back from each client (who will always say, "Yes! Send us ideas!"), work on a list of 10-12 topics. This usually takes me about eight hours to research, but if I net just one or two assignments for specific months, I'm able to schedule that and know with certainty that it's money in the bank. It's not wasted time if it results in a $1,000-$2,000 assignment, is it?

3) After you've nailed work with current clients, now research new markets. Make sure your Web site is current (in this case, I'm revamping mine this year), and go through the same process that you did with the current clients. Look at each publication's editorial calendar. Send an email to each magazine asking if they'll accept pitches. When you hear back from each one, research topics based on the calendar and send 10-12 story ideas.

This may sound like it's time-consuming, but think of it this way: If you handle this during December every night for just one hour after you sign a few Christmas cards, you'll start seeing results.

Get the work on the calendar before the year begins.

As the snow begins falling, you'll watch the assignments snowball.