Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Advice on Freelancing from Sylvia Forbes (Part I)

Last month Sylvia Forbes, freelance writer and editor of Bylines Writers Desk Calendar, was guest speaker at the Saturday Writers meeting at the St. Peters Community and Arts Center.

Sylvia shared a wealth of information about nonfiction writing with about 30 other writers. I took several pages of notes, but I'm condensing part I of the highlights here:

* Keep your query letters short. Include title of proposed article, a paragraph of what it's about, and be able to answer the question: Why should the editor choose me?

* Keep a submission tracker to track submissions, some of which are written two years before payment.

* Most magazines prefer third person. A few, like Travel and Leisure, prefer first.

* Travel Writing - Articles should report on a wonderful trip, not sound like an ad. Make writing fresh, not trite. Some editors will reject an article that uses the word "nestled" anywhere.

* Study the publication ahead of time.

* The trend is towards shorter (600-1200) word articles.

* Press trips are a great way to get paid to travel and write. Start locally. Check with Convention and Visitors Bureau or State Division of Tourism.

* AAA is a good place to get started, but they accept queries only in Jan-Apr. If you query outside that time frame your query will be tossed.

* Garden Writing - Editors plan 1 1/2-2 years ahead because of photos.

* Gardening is one of the most popular hobbies in America.

* Descriptions are important.

* Scientific names are key to garden writing. (My observation: Sylvia has a degree in botany, so she knows what she's talking about.)

* Senior magazines

* Word Count: Generally 600-800

* Profile interesting seniors

* Health stories

* How to survive on limited finances

* AARP pays $1-$2 a word.

* Smaller markets $25-$75 per article, which equates to 10 cents a word. You can't make a living on 10 cents a word.

* Local news - Contact the editor. Pay is usually per article. Might need coverage for evening or weekend meetings.

* Business - always looking for stories

* Not great pay for general articles

* Specialized publications pay more (e.g. cranes, asphalt, paint, baking, produce, gift basket, etc.)

* Profiles of successful business people. (e.g. Saturday Writers member David Lee Kirkland is going to be interviewed by the St. Louis Business Journal.)

My next post will wrap up Sylvia's suggestions on freelance writing for magazines specializing in the Arts, Parenting, Sports, the Outdoors, Childrens, and others.


  1. Sounds like another terrific Saturday Writers meeting. I'm so sorry I had to miss it!


  2. Donna--Thanks for posting your notes. I jotted down quite a bit---it was very informative---but I don't have my notebook right in front of me, so your highlights put some things in a more secure file drawer in my brain. (At least as secure as it gets in there...)

  3. Funny you should mention Saturday Writers-I mentioned it, too, over at my blog. In fact, I mentioned YOU.

    And your followers might want to check it out, too. They won't want to miss your next contest when they see what fun winning is! :-)


  4. Thanks for posting this. I took so many notes, I ran out of room. That was the most informative talk I've heard in ages. Saturday Writers Rock!

  5. Hi Cathy,
    You are so sweet!
    I love the photos of blowing bubbles. Glad to hear you enjoyed the surprise package.

  6. Hi Tammy,
    I think new glasses are in my future. When I first read your post I thought you said you ran out of the room.
    And, yes, Saturday Writers do rock. That's how we roll.

  7. I am having the worst luck with commenting tonight! I swear I'm not leaving another one, until at least tomorrow! I "lost" one on my own blog, too! Anyway...Great post, Donna!


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